Creating a Shift of Focus towards Empowering Women in Clean Energy

The sight of a woman carrying a bundle of firewood is all too common in many rural villages in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our societies however are unaware that the use of wood fuel and charcoal is a major problem both from a health and environmental perspective. The increase in demand for wood fuel especially for charcoal production is unsustainable and bound to be more destructive under a business-as-usual scenario. Indeed 72% of urban and 98% of rural households use wood fuel in the form of firewood and charcoal for cooking and space heating. With low forest cover and increasing signs of climate change, Kenya is currently facing prolonged drought while weather patterns remain unreliable.

One may assume that the issue of wood fuel adoption is not as severe as some pose it to be, but have you ever considered that despite a rapidly modernized Kenya, statistics still reflect that 70% of our county lacks access to electricity. That the average woman spends 5 hours a day collecting firewood? Or that over 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to respiratory complications caused by soot inhaled from household air pollution? These numbers are real.

This is why the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER) conducted extensive trainings country wide with the aim of educating women about the importance of environmental protection and the use of clean and renewable energy while empowering women through women entrepreneurship.

Follow-up studies show that women who had been trained on the use of solar lamps had saved at least Ksh 3000(about $30) a month by avoiding the use of kerosene to light their homes. The use of improved cookstoves also reduced their energy consumption and minimized health issues, particularly respiratory issues, that were prevalent before the adoption of improved cookstoves. By targeting women as clean energy entrepreneurs there is affirmation that women have a catalytic role to play in ending energy poverty and improving livelihoods.

It can be argued that Africa has made commendable economic strides in the past few years but we still have 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living without access to clean and affordable energy. Progress cannot be termed so until it is collective. One of the best ways to achieve collective progress is by joining hands in order to find innovative solutions that will work to help our continent achieve the sustainable development goals. This is essentially how we can secure a better future for ourselves, collectively.

Earlier this year I was involved in a forum which saw great minds and leaders in the field of energy discuss the priority actions needed to move the needle on issues such of the sustainability of wood fuels in developing countries. These kinds of fora, are very important to foster dialogue necessary to bring about change.

Despite rampant deforestation and land degradation, we cannot blame innocent women who are now forced to walk the extra mile to gather firewood in order to cook for their families and brave yet another day. What we can do however is help them. This is essentially what wPOWER aims to do as it provides alterative solutions to women at the grassroots so that the energy gap can be bridged.

Empowering women through increasing access to clean and affordable energy is in itself a driver for change. This was echoed in the words of Prof. Wangari Maathai who once said:

“I strongly believe that if Africa is to progress… it is on the hillsides and with women that we must work. That’s where those of us concerned about Africa and her citizens must focus our energies, for it is where the vast majority of Africa’s people are, and it is with their lives we must engage.” – The Challenge for Africa.

If we, together with many others of similar opinion believe that women’s rights are the unfinished business of the 21st Century, then these and many other issues that women face particularly in Africa should to be tackled, together.