Women face unique challenges hindering their access to energy – top gender activist

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

WOMEN face unique challenges that hinder their access to energy services and have negative impacts on the economy, a top regional gender advocate has said.

Addressing delegates at a 2020 regional energy association of Southern Africa conference in Victoria Falls Wednesday, Edith Wanjoni said the situation made it imperative for SADC institutions to track progress on gender equality.

Wanjoni is a gender advisor for Southern Africa Energy Programme, a Power Initiative under USAID.

The social entrepreneur also said it was important for SADC institutions to focus on gender inclusivity not only to expand energy access, but also because it improves the economic benefits to utilities and businesses.

“Lack of technical training and background is disadvantaging women from jobs within the energy sector, resulting in underrepresentation,” Wanjoni said.

“Lack of representation in policy-making and regulatory process, resulting in women not being consulted in energy planning.

“Energy access programmes and off-grid solutions are not tailored or marketed to women, who are the primary beneficiaries of household energy.

“And that additional financial constraint, such as collateral and high interest rates and a low economic position in households disadvantage women.”

She said equitable access to energy was critical to reducing poverty and achieving women’s economic empowerment.

“Increased income generation opportunities, particularly when coupled with productive use programmes that allow for home-based enterprises and improved delivery of health services, including lighting during child delivery, emergency night time care, refrigeration for blood and vaccines, and electricity for simple medical devices,” she said.

“Reduced opportunity costs of inefficient time use such as for biofuel collection, which is typically the responsibility of women and children.

“And that equitable access to energy also has lower probability of physical violence in areas without consistent lighting and electricity access.”

She went on to say that women were more likely to connect to electricity than men, but tend to be more economically disadvantaged.

The conference is being attended by 13 member countries from SADC region and are being represented by their chief executive officers, board members and energy regulators.