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South Africa’s Gendered Electricity Crisis

The nationwide power outages that have crippled South Africa's economy over the past 16 years have had a profoundly negative impact on women’s safety, labor-market prospects, and well-being. To ensure equitable outcomes, policymakers must adopt a fairer strategy for conserving electricity.

JOHANNESBURG – For the past 16 years, South Africa has grappled with an acute energy crisis characterized by rolling blackouts, some lasting as long as 15 hours a day. In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national “state of disaster” and announced a bailout of the state-owned electricity company, Eskom. But the government’s failure to maintain a stable power supply has already had a profoundly negative impact on South Africans’ daily lives, especially on the lives of women and girls.

The recurring nationwide power outages, euphemistically known as “load shedding,” have plagued South Africa since 2007. Given that most South Africans depend on essential state-provided infrastructure – as of 2021, 77.7% of the country’s households relied primarily on electricity for cooking – this crisis has hit homemakers especially hard.

Load shedding is implemented in several stages, with each stage signifying the removal of an additional 1,000 megawatts of electricity from the grid. The first stage involves “three two-hour power outages over four days or three four-hour power outages over eight days,” while in the sixth stage, consumers “could be affected 18 times for four days for up to four-and-a-half hours at a time or 18 times over eight days for about two hours at a time.”