Hivos International

Why Women Matter in Renewable Energy

Hivos Southern Africa Hub, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Energy Council and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, recently hosted a luncheon for women in the energy sector in Zimbabwe. The event, part of the Zimbabwe Clean Energy Week held from September 28 - October 3, honoured women who are at the forefront of promoting the uptake of clean, renewable energy technologies at policy, business, civil society and community levels in Zimbabwe.

According to the World Bank, women in developing countries spend between 2 and 9 hours a day collecting fuel and fodder, and performing cooking chores. Gathering biomass to meet a household’s energy needs is the burden of women and girls. In addition, these sources of energy -firewood, charcoal and animal dung, amongst others - burn inefficiently and give off noxious fumes that can cause serious respiratory disease and even death.

Although women are disproportionately affected by poor energy supply, they are underrepresented when it comes to the business of energy. They have little to no voice in making decisions about solutions to energy poverty. When energy projects are introduced in rural communities, the focus is mainly on technical aspects at the expense of key factors such as gender, which affects the participation of women in the adoption of new technologies.

The fact that women possess knowledge and skills that are critical to finding local solutions is largely ignored, with men taking up stake in the business of supplying new technologies.

Yet, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), experience shows that the resiliency of households and communities depends greatly on the resiliency of women. Given the requisite tools and support, women are a driving force for a new model of growth which is both more equitable and sustainable.

Women are key users of energy for productive activities, and access to labour-saving energy technologies greatly improves their welfare and ability to focus on earning incomes.

Since women are the primary users of energy in many areas, especially for cooking, it make sense for them to be involved in designing and implementing policies and projects to meet their own energy needs.

Overall, access to cleaner and affordable energy options can play an important role in gender equality and women's empowerment, but only if women get a greater stake in the business of renewable energy.