Energy access is still a dream for majority of women in Africa!

Improving access to energy is on the frontline of the global development agenda geared towards achieving SDG 7 that envisages a future where everyone is able to access affordable, reliable, sustainable  and modern energy. The global 2019 statistics reveal that the total number of people without access to energy dropped to 770 million from 860 million, a record lower when compared to previous figures. Despite the recorded progress, the sad reality is that access to energy remains uneven between and within regions particularly for sub-Saharan Africa. 75% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is without access to energy, a percentage projected to increase exponentially with time. While the lack of access to energy affects everyone, women have continued to be more disadvantaged than their male counterparts. This has raised the need for policy frameworks and alternative energy choices to be more inclusive and focus on addressing the challenges faced by women in the quest for energy access.

The development and adoption of off grid energy solutions across Africa is suggested as a way to effectively address the challenges of energy poverty faced specifically by women. Studies indicate that women in rural communities spend at least 3 hours per day  looking for firewood for home consumption. The concept of biomass cooking crisis, a labor-intensive activity where women rely on the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking, illustrates how women are at a greater risk of inhaling toxic gases. Also, the  human energy crisis affects women in rural areas as they spend most of their time on more manual unpaid household labor such as grain grinding and firewood collection. Such experiences that women have to put up with, affect their health, education attainment, life skills development and their ability to start up small businesses to generate their own income, thus the need for off grid energy solutions such as the use of solar energy.

The promotion of  gender sensitive  renewable energy projects in Africa’s remote areas will contribute to improved standards of living for  women as they will encourage them to take up green jobs in solar energy engineering, energy risk assessment and management. This  will also catalyse economic empowerment that will immensely reduce the gender inequality gap that exists  in most African countries. With an objective of spiraling green jobs and boosting the inclusion and participation of women through Just Transition pathways,  the African Centre for a Green Economy has embarked on a renewable energy access project in South Africa and Uganda’s most vulnerable communities.  This project has been designed with an aim that 60% of the target population will be women in the quest to ensure that women are the primary beneficiaries. It is also envisioned that the project will enable energy access for all as well as act as a case study to guide local leaders in setting up and implementing structures that tackle  energy poverty issues.

The immediate improvement in accessibility to energy among women will further aid in curbing cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in rural communities. Based  on  research findings, women with a sustainable source of energy are less prone to GBV compared to  women with no access to energy. This theory is based on the understanding that electricity  increases women’s access to information through televisions and radios, which exposes them to various global views on issues around GBV. This thinking is also supported by the view that with more information, women are enlightened and empowered to defend their rights and guard themselves against any form of violence. This also quickens and makes GBV response measures more feasible especially to women in rural areas. For example, with Africa’s general increase in GBV cases, it is projected that the extension and adoption of off grid energy solutions in rural communities will help in responding to the present energy crisis that has deterred the majority from information and response mechanisms.

Manufacturers of renewable energy solutions that fail to consider the needs of women can be assured that they will massively miss out on a large potential market for their products. Energy policymakers and analysts who ignore women’s needs will be failing to make use of an influential pool for renewable energy development. Energy researchers who side-line women in their  energy research and analysis will be intentionally failing to understand a large section of energy consumption and production. Ultimately, funding entities or investors who do not support gender-sensitive energy projects will be under looking one of their key target groups. As such, the inclusion of women in renewable energy strides in Africa cuts across all stakeholders starting from manufacturers of renewable energy solutions, policy makers, analysts, researchers to investors.

Let’s strive for renewable energy efforts that are gender inclusive to drive Africa to a sustainable development trajectory!

 Author – Damalie Tebajjukira

Communications and Marketing Associate Intern – African Centre for a Green Economy