A socio-cultural perspective on transformation of gender roles and relations, and non-change in energy-health perceptions following electrification in rural South Africa : case study for Gender and Energy World Development Report Background Paper

Margaret Njirambo Matinga

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This case study draws on a PhD which used an ethnographic approach in data collection and analysis. It is informed by extensive periods of observation and interviews by the researcher embedded in two villages, Cutwini and Tsilitwa in rural South Africa. Cutwini had no electricity or modern infrastructure such as a clinic and piped water while Tsilitwa had electricity, a clinic, piped water, and three modern schools. While this case study focuses on Tsilitwa, occasional references will be made to Cutwini to provide additional insights and to support findings. Both villages are largely inhabited by the Xhosa ethnic group allowing for a common cultural reference frame and therefore for comparison of some findings. The case study illustrates that gender relations are a significant factor in understanding whether and how technologies such as electricity and electrical appliances affect women and men´s lives. (Xhosa) Culture, while always changing, continues to affect daily life and perspectives. Therefore, understanding emic practices and their meanings is key to understanding the expected and unexpected changes that occur due to the introduction of an energy intervention such as electricity. The emic approach also offers explanations for the responses to an energy intervention. The findings of this study show that activities such as collecting firewood and cooking are meaningful beyond their utility functions. As a result, what an etic observer might interpret as a harmful activity or behaviour -such as collecting firewood- might from the emic perspective be a necessary part of being a „good woman‟ according to the pervading culture, an opportunity to socialise or a way of accumulating symbolic capital3. This case study also pays attention to women's and men's agency4 in acquiring electrical appliances; the endowments that women and men use to optimise the benefits of electricity; the role of formal and informal institutions in shaping the interactions that women and men have with electricity and electrical appliances; and the transformatory changes in gender relations, awareness of indoor air pollution (IAP) and how perceptions of smoke by both firewood users and nurses in the area affect action related to IAP.
Original languageUndefined
PublisherETC/ENERGIA in association Nord/Sør-konsulentene
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

PublisherETC/ENERGIA in association Nord/Sør-konsulentene


  • IR-79145

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