Entrenched gender biases and injustices in the coal political economy cannot be wished away with the ongoing shift from coal to renewable energy. Rather, the energy transition must seek to unwind these entrenched patterns in the 20th century energy system while creating an equal role for and participation of women in the 21st century energy system. To do so, just transition planning must proactively engage with gender questions in coal communities and envision a gender-transformative pathway to the transition in India’s coal states.
Analysing the forms of exclusions faced by women in coal economies, this brief argues that women face four structural barriers – entry barrier, distribution barrier, wage barrier and representation barrier – that are consequential for their social and economic status and agency. The combined effects of these barriers, the masculine nature of the coal industry and existing social norms marginalise women in India’s coal communities and confines them to three observed patterns of engagement: 1) social reproductive labour, 2) informal casual labour and coal scavenging, and 3) formal but menial labour in coal mines.
The ongoing shifts in our energy foundations offer an opportunity to unwind the gender inequities and injustices of the coal economy and envision a gender equal energy future. In this direction, the brief suggests four immediate steps to engage with the gender question as part of just transition planning.