Bringing Gender into the Energy Access Conversation

In the past year, we’ve had the good fortune of working with two incredible organizations dedicated to expanding energy access – Solar Sister and ENERGIA. Solar Sister helps empower women in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria to become solar entrepreneurs, selling home solar products to their communities – most of which lack access to the electrical grid. ENERGIA is an advocacy organization, dedicated to ensuring that gender issues stay central to the energy access conversation. We like to talk about our work at every chance we get and lately we’ve been getting one question a lot – why women and energy?

Access to energy is a key building block for reducing poverty, improving health outcomes, increasing security and eliminating discrimination. Access to a solar light can mean a craftsman can create their goods long after the sun goes down without risk of fire, exposure to toxins and the high price of burning kerosene gas. Access to a portable solar lamp can mean a midwife in rural Africa can deliver a baby during the nighttime while actually seeing what she’s doing – reducing the risk of errors and allowing her to correctly diagnose any problems along the way. A cleaner cooking stove can mean that women no longer run the risk of poisoning their children with the fumes of burning animal waste when they make meals. The savings from all of the above can help bolster a family, provide a source of savings (from not buying kerosene and charcoal many times a week) and allow them to save for school fees or unforeseen financial difficulties.

A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Uganda in 2014.
A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Uganda in 2014.

One in five people around the world doesn’t have access to electricity. Three billion people lack access to sustainable energy and still use wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Energy is a building block on which sustainable development can grow.

In the developing world, women are often the main users of energy. They cook, they manage household finances, they pay for children’s school fees and supervise their studies at night. They ration bottles of kerosene and ensure the family isn’t burning too much money away with each lantern lit. With women as the main energy users, it only makes sense to integrate them into the energy conversation. It makes sense to have them help create solutions and explain those solutions to the other energy users in their communities. This is important because it helps speed the adoption of new technologies and ensures that women don’t get left behind as energy access expands.

Sustainable development means that all parts of a community rise together on a tide. Not including energy access into the development conversation is a nonstarter – you won’t get anywhere without access to energy. Not integrating women into that energy access conversation has a different result. It allows communities to move ahead while leaving women behind, tied to solutions which don’t work for their lives.

A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Tanzania in 2015 for the WE:Shine Campaign.
A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Tanzania in 2015 for the WE:Shine Campaign.

Bringing gender into the energy conversation and empowering women to become energy practitioners, advocates and entrepreneurs ensures they make it onto the boat so we can all rise on the tide together.

To learn more about Solar Sister click here. To learn more about ENERGIA click here. For more information about energy access and development, visit the SE4ALL website.

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