EDITORIAL: Break barriers

It is important that Nepal adopts supportive policies and institutional frameworks to address gender and social exclusion issues in the energy sector

Ensuring adequate focus on gender equality and social inclusion has remained a long term commitment and priority of the government of Nepal. Well over a hundred international development partners, including bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, have for decades engaged actively alongside the government in order to help Nepal get out of the trap. But the agenda of bridging the gender gap and ensuring social inclusion still remains a far cry. And, this has mostly affected particularly those who reside in the rural hinterlands. Various studies and researches conducted by the government and well-meaning development partners have shown being women itself constitutes huge disadvantages. All the more, if they are widows or single women or those representing ethnic minorities, such as Dalits, Janajatis and Muslims.

According to a new study released by the Asian Development Bank, women, poor and various excluded groups face numerous structural barriers that prevent them from fully benefiting from Nepal’s energy sector – fuel, water and electricity to light their houses. By and large, women in Nepal have numerous responsibilities ranging from raising children to managing the daily household chores. In the rural areas, they are responsible for fetching fuel and water for their households and doing microenterprises, if there is any.  The energy needs of men and women are different. For men, energy encourages exploration of economic opportunities while in the case of women, it helps them reduce the labour needed in household work. The amount of time and effort they spend on collecting fuel takes them away from jobs, education and other activities for ‘self-improvement’. As the study points out, continued dependence on traditional biomass has detrimental effects on women’s health and, because they are unable to access energy services, they struggle to pull themselves out of poverty.

Gender equality and social inclusion in energy enhances livelihood opportunities, ensures social benefits and improves health and education services to aid in poverty reduction. Poverty in Nepal has a strong gender, caste, regional, and geographic dimensions that is also reflected in the energy access. But there always is a way if there is a ‘political will’ to involve the local communities in energy projects, to raise their access to energy and to improve impacts of energy services and technologies. It is important that Nepal adopts supportive policies and institutional frameworks essential to address gender and social exclusion issues in the energy sector. Equally important are political commitments and other

national and regional processes that provide the scope for creating a conducive legal and social environment for women. High costs, lack of policy and institutional framework, low capacity of community-based power plants, consumer preferences, lack of appropriate incentive structures and misappropriation of subsidies, among others, are identified as the main constraints for inclusion of women in the energy sector. For, we need to break the barriers, and urgently so.

Rebuilding of school

The historic Durbar High School, originally built in 1851 AD to provide education to children of the then Rana rulers, is likely to be rebuilt with assistance from the Chinese government. The school was opened to the public only in 1902 AD. The school, built in neo-classical design, sprawls in nine ropanies of land, houses two schools – Bhanu Secondary School and Sanskrit Secondary School – within the premises. Altogether 330 students are now studying at the temporary learning centres. The three buildings of the school were damaged by the devastating earthquake in 2015.

Unlike other heritage buildings damaged by the quake the school buildings will be reconstructed using modern construction materials to ensure safety of the students. A blueprint of the new buildings is being prepared by the Chinese government and it is being reviewed by a KMC jury. However, the Society of Nepalese Architects has urged the authorities concerned to retain the original neo-classical design and their façade. The society has asked the KMC to hold a public hearing before approving the new design of the buildings. Once the school is rebuilt as many as 1,000 students can be accommodated at a time.