Energy poverty has a gender dimension, where different sub-groups — predominantly women and girls but also men and boys — in any household are disproportionately affected by lack of access to energy at all levels.
Notably, women as end-users who play the role of main caregivers in the household and are responsible for managing energy resources, spend many hours collecting fuel and cooking with inefficient stoves, leaving little time for education, active participation in community activities and leisure, and face serious health risks due to fatigue and indoor air pollution.
But what has sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) have to do with electricity? Evidence suggests that women in electrified households report significantly lower acceptance of SGBV.
One reason is that electricity increases women’s access to information and their exposure to different world-views where gender violence is considered unacceptable. The more information that girls and women access the greater understanding they will have of their rights and the less accepting they may be of stereotyped roles and violence.
Reports indicate that in 2021 Kenya registered escalating egregious cases of SGBV that were partly due to the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.Additionally, systemic inequalities related to income, strained infrastructures, limited resources, rapidly changing social norms and breakdowns in systems that normally offer protection contribute to increased abuse.
Addressing the complex development challenge of SGBV particularly through energy intervention requires a balanced gender participation and broad inclusive approach that ensures energy needs of different sub-groups in a house-hold are realised to bring about a more equitable and sustainable energy sector.
By providing energy access in rural and arid areas where the population is most vulnerable and SGBV is prevalent, you attempt to widen options to escape energy poverty impacts. Evidence shows that income of self-employed rural women, who have access to energy are more than twice that of their counterparts without access to energy. Women are also more likely to become wage earning workers outside the home when they have access to electricity.
Its therefore incumbent upon policy makers, industrial actors and stakeholders in the energy space to cultivate and adopt mechanisms that encourage inclusion of women in the different segments of the solar home systems (SHS) value chain.
Perhaps the most concrete and compelling evidence is the recent success of PEG Africa, an asset financing solar power company providing home systems to under-served customers in West Africa, which successfully integrated gender into its action plan programme.
Solar Sister recruits, trains and supports women to deliver clean energy directly to homes in rural communities. Over 86 percent of Solar Sister’s staff consists of women energy managers, trainers, business coaches and technicians.The model is focused on building a women-driven last mile off-grid related distribution network to bring energy access to under-served communities.
It is premised on the idea that increasing women’s participation and leadership unlocks greater productivity, encourage gender equality and social inclusion in the workforce and product and service design. There is a growing body of evidence indicatinf that by integrating women into all stages of the energy value chain leads to more effective and efficient clean energy initiatives, unleashes greater return on investments as well as improved economic growth .
In Kenya, as in many parts of the developing world, energy access remains a major issue. Significant proportion of the population still have no access to electricity particularly in the rural and arid areas and failure to address this issue will have direct implications on Kenya’s economic growth.
Against this backdrop is a strong push to increase energy access in the country through concerted effort which include government incentives, private sector investment, and donor support.
For instance the amendment on income tax introduced in the Finance Act, 2021 in July and implemented on January 1,2022, allows all small private power producers to qualify for 100 per cent investment deduction on equipment, machinery and buildings for use in off-grid electricity generation. This particular policy revision is critical to lowering investment costs as well as ease the squeeze on household and thus accelerating adoption of mini-grid and solar home systems which subsequently enhances access to electricity.
With the push to address energy access, there has been an increase in the deployment of renewables,particularly solar, across Africa, with many individuals and businesses opting for SHS and other solar products. Women are already playing an active role in this market and have the potential to play a more active role as the market continues to expand. As this trend continues, there is growing recognition that women play a key role in the industry and that engaging them as active participants in all stages of the SHS value chain is inevitable.
Those who do, though, have seen the benefits of having women take the lead in designing and implementing marketing materials, sales pitches, distribution models, and plans tailored to respond to the unique needs and perspectives of their fellow women.
Since women are often the primary users of energy technologies and fuels in the home, they are uniquely qualified to discuss the benefits and features of the products they are selling.
Thuo Njoroge Daniel : An Energy Economist , is the Director of Policy and Strategy at The Africa Utility Forum.
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