Making the Case for a Unified Energy & Gender Strategy for sub-Saharan Africa
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and SDG7 “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”…may seem to be at opposite ends of the development spectrum. However since gender inequalities directly link to poverty, and access to energy facilitates economic advancement…energy access programs solely targeted to women, are essential to women’s economic empowerment.
There are several programs enabling energy access in rural and low-income urban areas in developing countries. These efforts usually take into cognisance, the fact that women bear the burden of energy poverty and set aside funds or develop initiatives to correct this gender imbalance. However, these initiatives are usually an offshoot or a subsidiary of a wider program, and unduly focused on mentoring or training women, as well as the ever popular “empowering women”. In the event funds are ever disbursed, they are reserved for the parent program, which will not count women in the majority of beneficiaries.
This is rife in sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, the Middle East and Central America, where millions of dollars in aid are channelled to entities to increase energy access, interspersed with economic and professional opportunities for women. Unfortunately this well-meaning gender sub-initiative, gets lost in the wider program and eventually neglected.
Speaking to sub-Saharan Africa specifically, the key challenges to gender equality are similar across the West, East, Central and Southern regions: Exclusion of women from the policy and regulatory consultation process for electricity programs; Lack of sensitive workplace policies; Limited or no access to funding; Time poverty, due to to time spent sourcing alternative means of energy in areas with limited or no energy access; Less access to land rights as a result of cultural and traditional barriers, which precludes women from seeking loans using land as collateral; Scarcity of female entrepreneurs in the sector; Fewer opportunities to network; Sexual harassment in male-dominated working environments…and so on.
Instead of the usual piecemeal approach to implementing mitigation measures, instituting a broad-based program solely aimed at creating a continent-wide Energy and Gender strategy and attendant implementation entry points is a much bolder step. A strategy that analyzes these challenges and creates targeted interventions such as financing, technical training, employment, income generation, investment and visibility. A strategy that goes further than endless capacity building and mentoring, to offer tangible results which translate to funding for women entrepreneurs; technical training or mentoring that results in either employment or investment; and visibility by giving women paid speaking opportunities and subject-matter interviews in national publications.
These challenges are the same from Mozambique to Mali, and though each country is unique, the overarching problems are identical. Developing continent-wide implementation entry points, will provide the much needed bridge between energy access and women’s economic empowerment, that has been missing so far.
This International Womens Month, the theme is #ChooseToChallenge and as usual our timelines and platforms will be flooded with companies posting pictures of female staff, the minuscule percentage of female leadership, platitudes about women being valuable to xyz industry and panels boasting of increased female participation.
2021 will be a great year to move past the posturing and onto the doing. Women are over-mentored and under-funded, inundated with mentorship and training, when money and opportunities would do. Governments, Donors, Development Finance Companies and private investors; should choose to challenge themselves this year to finance women-owned businesses and put women in positions of leadership in the energy sector.
A fully-funded program of its own, encompassing all the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, with one strategy and integration plan, and attendant implementation methodology, will go a long way in resolving the complex relationship between electrification and economic opportunity for women. Thereby fast-tracking fiscal development in emerging countries.
This signifies an exceptional opportunity to purposefully structure programming, to not only electrify communities, but put resources and opportunity directly in the hands of African women.
Adaku Ufere is an award-winning Thought Leader in the Energy & Gender space. She is committed to working towards finding solutions that address and lead to the eradication of energy poverty, experienced by women in developing countries.