In addressing climate change, we must also address gender inequality. To be successful in our responses to climate change, we must fully include girls and women and take into account their experiences and potential. Women’s empowerment, including economic empowerment through clean energy, must be a core part of the transition to a zero-carbon future and climate-resilient societies. Many Energy 4 Impact initiatives are women-focused to promote women’s involvement and ensure they are at the forefront of the clean technology revolution.
The climate crisis and resulting extreme weather events are affecting the whole world. But the people who suffer most are those who directly depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, such as farming and fishing communities. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, millions are already struggling with droughts, water scarcity, floods, and unpredictable weather that threaten their crops, cattle, food-chain supply, and their very survival.
Disadvantaged communities are most at risk, with disadvantaged women being particularly at risk. Deep-rooted gender inequality in many countries means that women and girls are especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather and are likely to face greater challenges. Being the ones often burdened by unpaid tasks such as collecting water or firewood, women experience the effects of resources becoming scarcer as a result of climate change. They have less access to land, technologies, financial services, and education than men do. They generally have less decision-making and negotiating power, making it difficult for them to overcome rigid gender roles and explore alternative livelihoods.
Climate-smart technologies can empower women
Clean, modern energy offers life-changing opportunities for women, both in the home and outside by enabling them to become more economically active. It can ease their workload and help them generate extra income, improving their quality of life. We must harness these opportunities by involving women in creative and sustainable solutions to the climate emergency, thus addressing gender inequality at the same time as promoting a carbon neutral approach.
In rural areas, mechanisation through solar-powered machines can help optimise, expand and diversify services, manufacturing, and processing. Climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies – irrigation and cold storage systems, electric equipment for drying, milling, and other crop processing – improve yields, preserve fresh perishable goods, enhance resilience to climate shocks, and reduce carbon emissions.
Women should not be left behind and must be part of this modernisation. While we cannot expect to tear down entrenched cultural and business norms immediately, we need to challenge from within by creating role models and by building the economic case for women’s empowerment, supporting them to play a greater economic role and to help build communities’ resilience.
That is why many Energy 4 Impact initiatives are women-focused. They target and support women to help them become more successful entrepreneurs by improving their financial, technical, and business skills and by helping them to access and reap the benefits of clean energy tools and technologies.
Cutting carbon, doubling sales
In Senegal, for instance, we have helped women’s agricultural cooperatives to improve their efficiency, yields, and product quality through clean energy effectively cutting down production time and doubling sales.
We helped a group of women to acquire solar driers to process cereals, resulting in millet and corn being sold for $1.4 per kilo, compared to the $0.3/0.4 per kilo they previously received previously. For a typical women’s farming cooperative, sales increased from $172 to $350 per month. Introducing solar-powered freezers, cold rooms, pumps, and irrigation systems has enabled them to extend their capacity, product offering, and profit.
But this is not just about doubling profits. Lives and livelihoods have been transformed through less arduous manual labor, improved living standards for entire households, increased food security, and the creation of local jobs.
This approach also helps build women’s credibility as business people and their capacity to effectively engage with a broad range of players in the financial, public, and private sectors. It helps boost their confidence and social status and earn the respect of their community members.
Clean technology benefits the whole community
Facilitating access to clean energy technologies and skills for rural women also helps create alternative, non-farm income generating activities. We have helped women in economic sectors such as services (food vending, hairdressers, beauty salons, stationery, photocopying, phone charging, repairs, etc.) and trading (shops, kiosks, restaurant, etc.) to use electricity and powered equipment to diversify and expand. Like their farmer counterparts, they have acquired technical financial and management skills and now enjoy enhanced business acumen.
Results show that, typically, most enterprises have increased their sales and, on average, their monthly profits have grown by 115%. A typical entrepreneur makes an additional $2.90 per day for her household, which is a significant increase in Energy 4 Impact’s target areas, where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. As a result, the whole community benefits from better local services.
Driving action on gender-sensitive climate policies
Things are changing and moving in the right direction. Some governments have started to include women and girls in their climate and development policies and are factoring in gender issues in climate change funding – we welcome this.
Last year we joined a coalition of 50 members to drive the Deliver for Good Campaign in Senegal. Deliver for Good advocates for gender equality through the health and rights of girls and women to achieve progress for all. Deliver for Good brings together a diverse range of experts and decision makers in a single multi-sector coalition with the expertise, credibility, and commitment to drive action.
Working alongside women such as Fatou Thiam Sow, Gender Focal Point and Coordinator of Studies and Planning Unit at the Senegalese Ministry of Energy, has been an extraordinary journey for us. Her relentless work to promote women’s equal participation in the energy sector has led to the development of a gender mainstreaming approach in the government’s access to energy strategy and to the integration of gender in national policies and programmes in 2017 – an outcome that we are proud to have influenced through advocacy.
Fatou Thaim Sow says.
We are confident that our joint action will help unlock women’s potential and kick-start the transition to a more equitable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral economy through the expansion of renewable energies.