By Rebecca Miano
As the CEO of a prominent company in the African energy sector, I am fortunate to take on a level of responsibility for socially uplifting ventures. At KenGen, we have implemented initiatives like KenGen Pink Energy and other projects that are enhancing gender equality as well as improving the working environment for women.
Female empowerment is indeed one of the most critical social undertakings to which I am committed. It is a cause that has always been close to my heart. Since I work in the energy sector and have particular interest in renewable energy, the correlation between electricity and feminine empowerment is worth exploring.
Commitment to Women of Africa
I am dedicated to projects that drive feminine empowerment in every community but specifically in my region. The energy sector holds so much promise for women’s empowerment — as leaders, as entrepreneurs, as thinkers, as workers, and as pillars of society. To understand how lack of access to electricity affects women and girls, we first must understand the true meaning of access to modern energy:
- Access to minimal electric power by every household
- Access to safe and sustainable heating and cooking fuels with minimal harmful effects on the environment and personal health
- Access to energy that enables economic activity, such as power for industries like agriculture and textiles
- Access to electricity for public services, such as power for hospitals, schools, and street lights
Female vs. Male Energy Needs
Even with significant investment towards energy security in Africa, we still have a long way to go, with the heavier burden falling on women and girls. Several papers featured in the Energy Research and Social Science academic journal demonstrate that women tend to earn less than their male counterparts and thus have less money to spend on energy, even where it is obtainable. This makes it even more difficult for them to improve their financial status through economic activity such as entrepreneurial ventures — a vicious cycle indeed.
A review by the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) found that another major challenge faced by African women and girls is exposure to air pollution from traditional biomass energy usage when cooking indoors — a role generally undertaken by females in African culture. The AfDB paper argues that this is also a consequence of a lack of opportunities for them to improve their financial status, something that access to energy could help alleviate. It further claims that the issue is compounded by women being forced into so-called traditional gender roles, essentially being forced to take on the lion’s share of home care activities rather than exploring their full potential in the business world. The lack of access to safe and sustainable energy for these activities around the home, such as cooking and heating, then leads to the necessity for women to take on additional responsibilities, such as gathering fuel, which comes with a range of safety issues. In a study conducted in Kenya by Energia’s Gender and Energy Research Programme, over 40% of respondents stated that female family members had been victims of violence when fetching firewood.
Empowering Women Through Access to Modern Energy
One of the many gender-specific challenges concerning energy generation and consumption is gender-based violence (GBV). Adaku Ufere, the deputy chief of party of USAID’S West Africa Energy Programme, contends that women who live in households with electricity are significantly less likely to be submissive to GBV. She explains that this is so because they have more understanding and awareness of the issue, and that understanding is facilitated by the increased access to information that electricity enables.
The Energia study also found that electricity empowered women by strengthening their human and social resources as well as by giving them decision-making freedom. It does so through reducing the risk of violence outdoors after dark, both by providing an increased sense of safety and by reducing the need to obtain non-electric fuel, such as kerosene, at dangerous hours. It allows women to make more decisions in great part because of the role it plays in giving them economic freedom and in freeing them from having to depend entirely on men regarding business or employment.
The Role of Renewable Energy in Social Empowerment for Women
Whether it is access to the grid or to renewable energy, women in particular reap immense marginal benefit from access to energy. That being said, renewable energy makes more sustainable and economic sense than conventional energy. It is significantly more affordable and reduces environmental harm. Solutions such as solar energy and biogas help women develop entrepreneurial ventures that could generate much-needed revenue and positively impact their environment.
Energy, and especially renewable energy, has tremendous potential to help women lead better, more meaningful lives in their communities and as part of the workforce. The empowerment of women is a noble goal and one well worth working towards. As we make the move to making renewable energy the industry standard, we will grow ever closer to including and empowering more women, even in the most vulnerable communities.
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