Equal goods, but inequitable capabilities? A gender-differentiated study of off-grid solar energy in rural Tanzania

Annelise Gill-​​Wiehl, Isa Ferrall, Daniel Kammen

Energy Research & Social Science
July 13, 2022


  • We evaluate energy justice of off-grid solar mediated through gender and class.
  • We distinguish the primary good approach from the capability approach in rural Tanzania.
  • Little evidence of gender differentiation, suggesting equality, but not equity.
  • Solar energy is an under-used means of income generation.
  • Payment schemes may not be the key to achieving energy justice.


Women and low-income households experience a disproportionate burden of energy poverty and have different capabilities to utilize access to energy. Despite this, many electrification plans insufficiently address gender and low-income households. Off-grid solar has and will continue to play a role in expanding access to electricity in rural Sub-Saharan Africa; however, off-grid solar is rarely examined across gender. We draw on a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews from a case study in rural Tanzania to investigate the energy justice implications of off-grid solar. We are the first article to evaluate and compare the primary goods approach and the capabilities approach for off-grid solar. We ask how the distributional benefits of off-grid solar are mediated by gender and class, filling a key gap in the literature of off-grid solar's impact. We find little evidence of gender differentiation from a primary goods approach, suggesting equality within off-grid solar usage, but inequity through a capabilities approach lens. Solar home systems remain out of reach for the lowest-income households. In our case study, off-grid solar is used both as a primary source for low-and-middle-income households, and as a back-up source for middle-and higher-income households. We find that solar energy is under-used as a means of income generation and that payment schemes may not be the key to achieving energy justice. We provide concrete recommendations for rural energy policy and global tracking frameworks to ensure that women and low-income households have not only equal, but equitable access to obtain the capability benefits of off-grid solar.

Featured Fellows

Daniel Kammen

Energy and Resources Group, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley
Faculty Affiliate