Over the last decade, a new dynamic has evolved in the energy sector. Women all over have moved from the ‘Please give us a hand’ level to the ‘I am taking this’ level; especially in the climate advocacy and clean energy space.
Women have assumed major roles in almost every professional and societal sector but the renewable energy industry appears to harbour more than its fair share. And this is not by accident. Interestingly, these women are not looking for fame (it comes with the territory), are not looking to be counted equal to men (they already are. why belabour a moot point?); but because of their passion and instinctive innovative spirit, they have identified renewable energy as an avenue to change the existing energy landscape, change the environment, change the society and ultimately change the world.
And that’s what all these women have set out to do in their own individual ways through whichever form they feel most comfortable with. Some are more interested in advocacy, others believe in policy formulation and implementation, some in development and entrepreneurship while others just prefer letting their works speak for them. And trust me, these works and efforts do speak.
From Advocacy to Operations; and all in-between, women have gradually reshaped the industry. All over the country, despite the challenges of their locations and environments, of their financial deficiencies and even intellectual challenges, women have embraced Renewable Energy; and this is because it has shown to be a game-changer in gender equity, equality and women advancement.
From helping a grandmother who has never seen electricity to understand it is harmless and not a danger; that she can actually just put on a switch and light comes on without her having to look for the kerosene lamp or the young female who sees it as an avenue and opportunity to change her economic situation and jumps on it or the mother who toils all day without due recompense finally seeing her workload shelved by half through use of this technology; the impact is enormous and widespread.
The impact women are having on the sector cannot be quantified. Much more so than the menfolk, who mostly see it as a commercial undertaking, women are much more involved as impact developers.
Renewable Energy initiatives have demonstrated the ability to shift gender paradigms by promoting the empowerment of women, increase income-generating opportunities for women, reduce hunger and poverty levels, and enhance women’s social and political status. A 2012 world development report noted, “Greater gender equality is smart economics, enhancing productivity, advancing development outcomes for the next generation, and making institutions more representative.”
As primary users of household energy for cooking and heating, access to energy for rural women is critical, as studies have estimated that there are more than 1.6 billion people living without reliable sources of energy, and 2.7 billion people relying on open fires and traditional stoves for cooking and heating—and it is not unreasonable to assume that at minimum half of these are women. Meeting cooking, heating, and lighting needs places a significant burden on women and girls, negatively impacting their health and safety, and limiting education and livelihood opportunities. Improving women’s status has an impact on many other development outcomes, including for children, and the clean energy sector stands to benefit from, and should contribute to, these kinds of improvements.
With increasing implementation of mitigation initiatives, there are countless opportunities to further gender inclusive investment, employment and leadership in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sub-sectors.
Women are an underutilized resource in both climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives. With the proper capacity, women have shown their capability as key energy managers, contributors and beneficiaries of renewable energy and efficiency projects.
Increasing women’s participation in policy dialogues, ensuring equal access to co-benefits generated by mitigation options, opening the renewable energy and energy efficiency labour forces to women, and un-tapping new investment opportunities through increasing women’s participation as investors, has created an enduring support structure for effectiveness of mitigation actions and also to pave the way toward gender equality in the energy sector.
Access of Women to Energy:
Access of women to energy as a whole differs from that of men especially when dealing with different strata of people. Access to energy is also linked to various limitations and social and financial barriers. Rural conditions including harsher traditional gender division of labour and social restrictions as well as poorer demographic experiences impose greater constraints at two levels. First, as members of the female gender and second, as rural female gender. The interaction of these two levels of disadvantage with poor demographic profile present formidable obstacles to rural women’s exercise over their human/women’s rights in most spheres of life including access to energy, education and public activities.
- Restricted freedom to mobility for example in some communities limits the access of women to some forms of energy and the services they make possible. Women and girls for example are sometimes restricted from moving during night hours or using the internet for those, in the urban areas because of social barriers and limitations. Scarcity of rural-gender disaggregated data restricts the extent of analysis. For example, the UNDP’s effort in 1995 human development report to relate rural to urban women’s literacy produced only limited results for the above reason.
- When financial resources are limited, the distribution of resources within the household is impacted by gender, among other factors. Men and women may have different priorities and as such, the priorities of men are more likely to be taken into consideration. While women’s priorities in accessing resources of renewable energy may lie in having access to machines that facilitate domestic chores as well as those that may lead to income generation. Men’s priorities may lie in improving their own income generation opportunities or on seeking information, training or entertainment.
- While access to energy resources may be available to men and women, control over these resources remains only in the hands of men. To improve access of women to energy resources, provision of credit, technical information and knowledge are necessary for them.
All these facts influence women’s access and control over renewable energy as well as their ability to respond and be included in programmes and developmental interventions and to address gender differences.
- Poor women in rural areas of developing countries generally have a more difficult time compared to men due to their traditional socio-cultural roles. They often spend long hours collecting fuel wood and carrying it back home over long distances.
- The time and labour expended in this way exhausts them and limits their ability to engage in other productive and income-generating activities.
- Their health suffers from hauling heavy loads of fuel and water and from cooking over smoky fires.
- The opportunities for education and income generation are limited by lack of modern energy services and as a result their families and communities are likely to remain trapped in poverty (UNDP, 2001).
- Shifting to renewable energy will positively impact women’s health as they will no longer be exposed to smoke and carbon monoxide when they cook as it is with wood and charcoal.
- Renewable energy will also alleviate the drudgery of fuel wood collection and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
- Shift to modern energy for lighting, cooking and productive activities will positively impact women’s literacy, education and economic activities.
- Particularly, education of women is known to produce powerful effects on nearly every dimension of development, from lowering fertility rates to raising productivity to improving environmental management.
Empirical research shows that modern energy services are important for the empowerment of women, because they improve women’s health, reduce their time, poverty and sometimes gives them more options in their work.
Why Do Women Need Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy development can in particular address women’s needs in:
- The biomass cooking crisis: fuel scarcity, health and safety.
Women need renewable energy to address their critical need for cooking energy. Women need cooking energy that is less labor-using, more convenient, and safer. A broad view of the entire household fuel cycle needs to be taken, including not just improved stoves but kitchen and housing design, food preparation and processing, and improved technology for the ergonomic collection and transportation of firewood. Some programs have sought to do this, but compared to other energy initiatives, household energy programs have been under-resourced and marginalized. Furthermore, biomass-based renewable energy projects need to take into account women’s dependence on biomass energy for basic needs, and the possible effects of new biomass technologies on women’s access to traditional biomass resources.
- The human energy crisis: women’s invisible time and effort.
An important portion of women’s economic contribution is unpaid, unrecognized and undervalued, resulting in less attention to technology development and to investment in improving women’s work than men’s work. Women need renewable energy to address their labor-saving and human energy needs, such as drinking water pumping, food processing and grain grinding, and transport.
- Energy for microenterprises: livelihoods and income.
Women need renewable energy to improve profitability and safety in their energy-intensive microenterprises, and to save labor. Improved biomass-burning and other stoves and commercial-size solar cookers, solar baking ovens, solar fruit and vegetable dryers, improved fish smokers and renewable energy-powered grain grinders and millers are some of the applications that have been made to women’s food-processing activities. Solar hot water heaters, refrigeration systems and photovoltaic lighting for markets, hotels and restaurants, as well as for entertainment venues are also potential uses. Lighting is also important for allowing women to work in the evenings more productively in home industries.
- Energy for the modern sector: fuel substitution, efficiency and transport.
Women need efficient energy in the modern sector, because women still play the key role in household energy use in modern and modernizing societies. As modern lifestyles become more rushed, women need more cooking and energy options to aid their work. Renewable energy and energy efficiency programs need to involve women because women influence their households’ direct and indirect energy consumption, educate and shape their children’s future energy conservation and consumption habits. Urban transport improvements need to take women’s urban transport needs more frequent and shorter trips than men, balancing work and family, with children, safety -into account.
Are Women Really Interested in Renewable Energy Technologies?
The short answer to this is; of course, Yes!
But despite evidences to the contrary, there remains a persistent stereotype that women are not technically proficient and are not capable (even when provided with appropriate support) of building, operating and maintaining sophisticated interventions.
Evidence to the contrary however shows that supporting women’s own innovation abilities could be a rich source of improving renewable energy technologies, while at the same time increasing women’s own capacities and confidence.
More women have attained executive positions in the energy sector, also due to the increasing access by women to science and technology education. A lesson for renewable energy projects is that male roles are not fixed but are increasingly being undertaken by women household heads, as well as by other women.
The increasing numbers of professional women in the energy sector has evolved to be a source of support in efforts to increase the role of women in renewable energy.
Women have in a number of cases demonstrated their interest by taking active roles in renewable energy projects that produce real benefits for them; that improve their quality of life, reduce their workload, or provide them with opportunities to increase their income. Women are already playing diverse roles in some renewable energy activities:
- As energy consumers and beneficiaries,women have contributed to design of household energy technologies and projects. Improved stoves programs have been more effective and produced more benefits when they have obtained women’s input to product design and have targeted marketing and credit to women and men as appropriate. Some solar cooker projects are already making use of similar approaches.
- As Micro-Entrepreneurs,women have used renewable energy to increase profits and efficiency in their informal sector enterprises, and have proven themselves capable of operating and also constructing renewable energy technologies on their own, when provided with the appropriate training and support. Women may be effective renewable energy entrepreneurs, due to their experience as users of energy in households and their own enterprises; in some countries women are already marketing solar home systems successfully.
- As extension workers and caretakers,women have been effective in operation and maintenance roles of biogas, hydroelectric and solar installations. Though some costs may be higher, due to women’s need for training and their restricted mobility, others are lower, due to less staff turnover and greater reliability
- As leaders, networkers and lobbyists,women have successfully influenced energy policy decisions at the local, national and international levels. Women do not necessarily have to build, operate or maintain renewable energy installations alone. More important is that women have a role in determining the use and benefits of the project and in managing these arrangements, and that they receive and control benefits.
Women in one form or the other are the mainstream users and often producers of energy. Without their involvement, renewable energy projects risk being inappropriate, and failing.
- Women are the main users of household energy in developing and industrial countries; they influence or make many family purchases related to energy;
- They are experienced entrepreneurs in energy-related enterprises
- Women’s organizations are effective promoters of new technologies and active lobbyists for environmentally benign energy sources.
- Renewable energy manufacturers that do not pay attention to women’s needs, will be missing a huge potential market
- Energy policymakers who ignore women’s needs, will be failing to make use of a powerful force for renewable energy development.
- Energy researchers who leave women out of energy research and analysis will be failing to understand a large part of energy consumption and production.
- Donors who do not support gender-sensitive energy assistance will be overlooking one of their primary target groups.
Impact of Women in Renewable Energy
Recognizing the roles and impact women are having in the renewable energy sector and invariably on Nigeria’s socio-economic growth, has brought development closer to the population at the bottom of the pyramid, even in communities where government cannot reach (sometimes don’t even know they exist).
The evolution of the clean energy sector in Nigeria is also the story of the evolution of women empowerment, entrepreneurship and economic independence. Hardly has any sector been quite as impactful and game-changing nor accommodating as the industry has been to women. And really, hardly has any industry benefited as much from women participation as much as the clean energy sector.