Women’s Participation In Energy Sector Equals Empowerment

By Neena Bhandari

 Aïssata Ba, the 45-year-old widow and mother of seven children, has been practising market gardening for the past 30 years in Lompoul Sur Mer village in the Niayes area of north-west Senegal. For many women in the village, endowed with fertile soil and favourable climate, it is the primary source of income throughout the year.

But lack of infrastructure, access to sustainable energy, financial support, equipment and knowledge of modern practices makes it a hard toil for these women engaged in market gardening, which is small-scale production of fruits, vegetables, flowers and cash crops during the local growing season and sold directly to consumers.

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Aïssata had to manually prepare seedbeds, remove weeds and irrigate her 0.15-hectare plot by drawing water from the well, a bucket at a time, with the help of her two sons 17 and 23 years old.

“It was physically draining and time-consuming. It limited our production capability,” Aïssata told IPS via Mariama Traore, Energy 4 Impact’s (E4I) Gender and Advocacy Officer and Co-Leader of Deliver for Good Senegal Campaign, powered by global advocacy organisation Women Deliver.

Energy 4 Impact, a non-profit organisation working with local businesses to extend access to energy in Africa, and Siggil Jigeen, an NGO that promotes and protects women’s rights in Senegal, are steering the Deliver for Good Senegal Campaign to invest in girls and women for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus priorities of the campaign, a coalition of local representatives of civil society organisations, government leaders, U.N. agencies, and the private sector, including increasing women’s access to resources – clean and renewable energy.

In 2018, only 42.3 per cent of households in rural areas had access to electricity, according to Senegal Energy Ministry’s 2019-2023 Energy Sector Policy Paper. Most rural households, institutions and small businesses in Senegal currently rely on hazardous, traditional and inefficient energy sources, such as wood, for lighting, cooking and other energy needs.

“This low availability, adoption and use of welfare-enhancing electrical appliances, especially in poor and rural communities, specifically impacts the time women spend in poverty and the drudgery of labour-intensive activities,” Traore told IPS, adding that “Women’s paid and unpaid labour status and power relations, gendered social norms related to land and asset ownership and independent income, dramatically influence their ability and incentive to access modern energy services and appliances.”

Aïssata is amongst several rural women selected by Energy 4 Impact to participate in an economic empowerment programme, which provides women entrepreneurs involved in farming, dairy production, agriculture and shop owners access to renewable energy technologies, such as solar-powered pumps, freezers, solar systems, and equipment for drying, milling, and processing crops.

Since installing the solar pump, Aïssata’s production has increased from 900 kg to 1,428 kg of vegetables and her six-monthly turnover has shot up to $617 from $350.

“It has not only improved my productivity and income but also our living conditions. I also received technical knowledge to evaluate the profitability of crops, support with accessing finance for the pump and learning modern business skills,” she said.

“Last year, my onion crop was the first to arrive on the market, giving me a competitive edge to sell it at a premium price. Since then, I have had a good cycle of crops – tomatoes and cabbages, turnips and onion seeds. This phenomenal transformation in such a short time has inspired me to invest in more land and install a solar sprinkler system in the future,” Aïssata added.

Limited access to energy has been impeding the country’s socio-economic development. The campaign is ensuring that women are being locally recognised as key actors within the energy sector.

Earlier this year, 43-year-old Assy Ba was helped with a loan to buy a solar freezer for her restaurant in the small town of Manda in Tambacounda region, south-east of the national capital Dakar. This made it possible for her to sell cold food products in her off-grid electricity village. Her restaurant had a steady stream of customers stopping for refreshments as Manda is located at the crossroad of two main routes leading to the southern part of Senegal bordering Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. She also had regulars from the large weekly markets.

“My monthly turnover increased to around $400 from a mere $60 or 65 and I could also save food wastage. But since the COVID-19 travel lockdowns have been imposed, we only get very few local customers. I am eating into my savings. My husband is too old to work. Every day, I worry about feeding our eight children and repaying the business loan,” Assy told IPS via Traore.

Energy 4 Impact studied the impact of COVID-19 on 20 women entrepreneurs it supports.

95 percent said they were very worried about their financial future and the future of their businesses and how that will impact access to food and health.

70 percent of them said that their business was strongly impacted, mainly by the loss of customers and the supply of raw materials, and they had difficulty in repaying their loan.

“We believe it is crucial, more than ever before, to focus on expanding energy access to power economic activities, as this has a very tangible impact on women’s welfare and opportunities,” Energy 4 Impact’s West Africa director Mathieu Dalle told IPS.

In Senegal, women comprise almost 50 per cent of the population.

47 per cent of the 15 million Senegalese live below the poverty line and half the population is food insecure, according to the National Agency of Statistics and Demography of Senegal.

For rural women, involved in agriculture, food security is a major challenge and that is the reason they need sustainable energy sources to improve and increase the production, preservation and processing of food.

With funding support from ENERGIA, an international network on gender and sustainable energy, and other development partners, Energy 4 Impact’s Foyré Rewbé2 – Empowering Women, Engendering Energy project is assisting women with solar energy. In its sixth phase (April 2019 to March 2022), the project aims to increase the number of rural women entrepreneurs – involved in cereals and peanut farming, fisheries and aquaculture, livestock production, light industry and agro-processing, trade and services – in sustainable Productive Uses of Energy (PUE).

“We are advocating that part of the revenue from oil and gas should fund the development of renewable energies, especially for women’s income-generating activities,” Traore told IPS.

The solar resources in Senegal are characterised by 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, and average overall daily solar irradiation of 5.8 kWh / m2 / day. These resources have been harnessed through photovoltaic and thermal solar systems.

The campaign’s advocacy work has led to gender being integrated into national energy policies and programmes. “Women are the heart of society and any progress is only possible through their participation,” said Fatou Thiam Sow, gender focal point and coordinator of studies and planning unit at the Senegalese Ministry of Energy.

Women’s empowerment, including economic empowerment through expansion of renewable energies, has to be at the core of reducing carbon emissions and building climate-resilient societies.

Since the Women Deliver for Good Senegal Campaign began, many women organisations are today more aware of and they are defending their right to access clean and sustainable energy for their domestic and productive uses.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted women-led businesses across Africa. “Women are disproportionately represented in most of the economic sectors hit by the pandemic. Ensuring that stimulus packages and post COVID-19 policies are gender-sensitive will be critical to getting African women entrepreneurs back on their feet,” Esther Dassanou, coordinator of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa programme, told IPS.

Source: IPS

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