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Looking Beyond Environmental Benefits: The Solar Sector Initiatives Empowering Women Across The Globe
- Providing women with access to green energy is vital in the battle against gender inequality and poverty. In addition, women and girls that have access to electricity have more opportunities to pursue education, employment, and becoming civically involved.
- The energy and gender nexus is rooted in understanding women and men’s differing demands and priorities regarding energy stemming from gendered societal and cultural norms.
- Despite women currently being underrepresented in the renewable energy sector, many organisations are working hard to close the gender and energy poverty gap, such as Solar Sister, Barefoot College, and ENVenture.
- When women run energy enterprises, create policies and work in the energy sector, the projects may be more likely to succeed. For example, the policies may be more efficient, the utilities could earn higher revenue, and the women involved may sell more energy commodities.
- Although women and girls in rural areas are the principal beneficiaries of improved renewable systems, those living in cities should not be forgotten. Renewable energy is a fundamental part of sustainable urban planning as it helps make cities safer, improves sanitation and general health. In addition, pushing for the installation of lights may help to reduce crime against women and provide heightened security in public places.
Achieving greater gender diversity in the rapidly expanding renewables sector is vital for numerous reasons. For example, the increased involvement of women enables the renewable industry to benefit from the additional talent women can provide. Additionally, a diverse workforce across all positions, including senior management and board-level roles, brings considerable co-benefits for organisations with regards to culture, growth, and sustainability. Also, by ensuring a just energy transition, the equity dimension of its benefits is considered across social and economic groups. Finally, the switch to renewables needs to actively involve women and children because they are disproportionately affected by the use of traditional energy sources in the energy access context.
Supplying women with access to green energy is vital in the battle against gender inequality and poverty. Women are more likely to experience energy poverty and at a much higher rate than men. According to a WHO report, they are also more likely to die from indoor air pollution caused by nonrenewable household energy solutions. This report suggests that an estimated 3.8 million people die prematurely each year from illness linked to air pollution caused by the inefficient domestic consumption of solid fuels and kerosene for cooking. The consequences can lead to pneumonia, strokes, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.
Women who have access to electricity have better prospects of pursuing an education, gaining employment, and becoming civically involved. This article examines how the solar sector empowers women to create change within their communities and lives through renewable energy initiatives.
Understanding The Energy-Gender Nexus
The energy and gender nexus aims to recognise women and men’s differentiated demands and priorities regarding energy stemming from gendered societal and cultural norms.
Before delving into some of the positive international solar energy projects supporting female equality, it is essential to understand how energy and gender are connected. The energy and gender nexus is based on recognising women and men’s differentiated demands and priorities regarding energy stemming from gendered societal and cultural norms.
When modern and sustainable energy facilities are not easily accessible, women and girls are having to spend long, exhausting hours performing basic tasks. These subsistence tasks include the time-consuming and physically draining job of collecting biomass fuels. Due to the prolonged and ongoing nature of these tasks, women and girls, particularly in rural areas, are restricted from accessing livelihood-enhancing options associated with education and employment. The demands that come from these ongoing activities may also serve to limit their opportunities for social and political interaction.
Many of these women and girls also have to cook using dangerous fuels, which are detrimental to their health. Sadly, these women and children are often exposed to toxic smoke from traditional cooking stoves. Furthermore, they may be at increased risk of violence due to the absence of street lights at night and during the day when resources are scarce. Some women are required to source fuel from remote and isolated areas that can be unsafe.
Increasing access to reliable, sustainable, and affordable forms of energy can massively reduce the burden of household chores typically assigned to female family members. As a result, it will allow more women to invest some of their time into activities with greater pay-off, which will enable them to become empowered. This sense of empowerment will hopefully result in improved equality among genders. In addition, gender mainstreamed energy initiatives are often more successful and more likely to accomplish a sustainable impact. Therefore, understanding female energy usage will ultimately facilitate a more comprehensive and long-term renewable energy solution for inclusive growth and advancement.
The Value of Women in the Renewable Energy Sector
When women run energy enterprises, create energy policies and otherwise work in the power sector, the projects tend to have more successful outcomes than when they are not involved.
It is well known that women are under-represented in the energy sector – even in renewables. The 2012 World Development Report estimated that female employment is half the level of male employment in the electricity, gas, steam, and water industries. The renewable energy sector has an underrepresentation of women, although it’s much more promising than the conventional energy sector.
There are ample employment opportunities within the renewable energy sector, as 29 million job opportunities have been projected to emerge by 2050. Whilst this should create more room for women within the workforce, most of the jobs in the renewable energy sector are currently held by men. There really is no excuse for the renewable energy sector not employing more women. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has reiterated that empowering women in the industry and within their communities will advance economic and social progress and help governments to provide a gender balance and facilitate sustainable energy for all.
Including women in renewable energy projects will also have a positive impact on the sector as a whole. It has been found that when women run energy enterprises, create energy policies and otherwise work in the power sector, the projects tend to have more successful outcomes than when they are not involved. For example, the policies may be more efficient, the utilities could earn higher revenue, and more energy commodities may be sold. So, by including more women in the industry, there is the potential to help improve efficiency and generate greater profits.
Apart from benefiting the renewable energy sector, empowering women in their communities can be hugely transformative. As reported by Forbes, when women are given the opportunity, it only takes one woman to power 50 homes in her neighbourhood. Experts suggest that this is because women tend to hold strong social capital in communities – meaning they are in a better position to reach out to other women to generate clean energy awareness and share information about its positive impacts on female lives. Thus, it is evident that working to empower women with renewable energy opportunities benefits both the communities and the energy industry.
Projects Working To Empower Women Within The Solar Energy Sector
Whether through financial support or education, organisations need to continue to empower women and girls with renewable energy solutions to have a brighter future.
Despite women currently being under-represented in the renewable energy sector, there are many organisations that empower women with solar energy initiatives. Here is an example of three projects which are working hard to close the gender and energy poverty gap:
- Solar Sister: The United Nations describes Solar Sister as an award-winning social enterprise advancing women’s entrepreneurship to create off-grid electricity and clean cooking solutions for underserved communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Solar Sister teaches women about entrepreneurship and provides them with the services and supplies needed to run a sustainable business. In turn, these women offer renewable energy to those in need in rural communities throughout several African countries. At this current time, Solar Sister operates in Tanzania and Nigeria and has previously conducted some work in Uganda. The organisation aims to be actively serving in five different countries by 2022. As of 2020, Solar Sister has educated more than 5,000 entrepreneurs who have supplied electricity to around two million people.
- Barefoot College: This is a fantastic organisation based in India that trains women to become solar engineers, teachers, and entrepreneurs so they can bring renewable energy and education to their communities. Barefoot College works with more than 2,000 villages and is present in 93 countries. Apart from providing solar energy education and training, the organisation also includes healthcare programs, clean water initiatives, empowerment programs, and education for children.
- ENVenture: Sponsored by New Energy Nexus, the ENVenture program supports Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in villages in Uganda. They aim to support these CBOs with the necessary tools to establish clean energy businesses. The CBOs that perform the best throughout their first year are rewarded with more financial support. According to their website (linked above), the program has facilitated energy access to more than 95,000 people and created 600 jobs (with 70% of the roles going to female candidates).
Solar energy projects such as those listed above demonstrate how renewable energy initiatives can empower women and benefit communities. Whether through financial support or education, organisations need to continue to empower women and girls with renewable energy solutions to have a brighter future.
Gender Equality For Sustainable Cities
The empowerment of women should not only be seen as a responsibility but also as an opportunity – since women’s economic participation and wellbeing are crucial for society overall.
Although women and girls in urban areas are indeed the principal beneficiaries of improved renewable energy resources, females in the city should not be overlooked. For cities to become genuinely sustainable, factors besides those connected to the economy, ecology, and environmental policy need to be addressed. These include social dimensions like gender equality, inclusiveness, cultural adequacy, and fairness. Furthermore, women’s empowerment should not only be seen as a responsibility but also as an opportunity – since women’s economic participation and wellbeing are crucial for society overall. It is no coincidence that poverty rates tend to be lower in countries with greater gender equality rates.
There are two attributes that are crucial when planning and re-organising gender-sensitive cities: safety and comfort. Security needs to take precedence when planning sustainable cities, as women and girls are disproportionately subjected to gender-based violence and harassment (which is especially prevalent in cities). Moreover, a crucial part of working adults’ lives for both women and men is the comfort and support they can access in order to balance family and work life.
For example, some key sources of comfort include:
Fair access to employment
- Fair access to employment
- Educational opportunities
- Access to childcare
- Access to healthcare
- Sanitary facilities
Additionally, the eradication of gender-based occupational segregation, gender pay gaps, and other forms of labour market discrimination also need to be addressed.
Renewable energy is also a fundamental part of sustainable urban planning. It can help to make cities safer, improve sanitation, boost general health, and create sustainable transport and mobility concepts. In addition, advocating the installation of lights to help reduce crime against women and to provide security in public places can help create a safer environment for women and girls.
The global transition toward renewable energy creates many benefits for the economy and the environment, including new employment opportunities. Women’s contributions (such as their talents, skills, and views) are vital in supporting the growing solar industry during this huge transition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are renewable energy solutions only needed for women in rural areas?
There is a need for renewable energy solutions in all settings (including cities and rural areas). However, it is assumed that rural women are the principal beneficiaries of improved renewable energy technologies. Limited energy access in remote areas negatively affects the welfare of rural women, causing health concerns and isolating them from opportunities such as work, education, and even socializing.
Why is solar energy often considered to be ideal for rural areas?
Solar power is excellent for rural areas as it can produce energy without additional water use. This results in less competition for resources and more affordable irrigation for nearby agricultural services. In addition, solar power does not pollute water supplies in the way that traditional energy sources like coal mining and coal plants do.
How many people die from air pollution due to the use of fossil fuel fuels?
In 2020, Forbes shockingly reported that 10,000 people die each day due to fossil fuel air pollutants. Their findings were based on a study published by the Cardiovascular Research journal. It approximated that the deaths of more than 3.6 million people worldwide in 2015 could have been prevented if air pollution from fossil fuels had been reduced to zero.
Why are women and men affected differently by energy?
Women and men are affected differently and have different uses for energy because of the gender roles influencing their responsibilities and day-to-day activities. In general, the way that women spend their time varies from country to country and is affected by a variety of factors – including socioeconomic status and urban versus rural residence. In much of the developing world, however, women are responsible for domestic or household tasks.
What percentage of the renewable energy workforce is female?
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that the renewable energy sector employs around 32% females. This is compared to 22% in the energy sector overall. However, within renewables, women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs is still far lower than in administrative positions.