[Column] Phyllis Wakiaga: Empowering women through renewable energy
The more central energy is to our lives, the more crucial it is to provide equal access and distribution for all in order to secure our country’s future. Increasingly, what we are realizing is that this accessibility is made problematic and the lack of it exacerbated by the growing poverty gap in spite of modern technological advances.
Yet, access to electricity remains one of the foremost indicators of advancement and equity in many developing economies. Sustainable development in any society is dependent on equitable distribution of resources – key among these being energy, and we must be sure of our capacity as a country to provide this in order to realize our own development goals.
Ensuring economic sustainability means increasing the participation of women, mainly affected by poverty, in economic activities geared towards improving our livelihoods and GDP. However, because poverty is gendered, it means that currently the reality is that men and women do not have equal access to energy.
The division of labour which is also gendered, is also a major contributor to the Energy poverty because of historical perceptions of Women’s labour and contribution to the economy Vis a Vis that of men. The division of labour determines who accesses energy and whose labour is prioritized in terms of energy consumption. This has an impact on skill enhancement, capacity to produce or grow labour and the gains expected.
Kenya, is one of the countries in Africa that has shown leadership in embracing renewable energy and dedicating substantial resources towards finding sustainable energy solutions. We have seen deliberate efforts to encourage accelerated investment in renewable energy development for instance, by formulating a feed-in-tariffs policy for independent power production in clean energy.
But how do we ensure equitable distribution of renewable energy once we increase production? How do we use renewable energy as a vehicle for equitable growth across the country? By focusing on women’s access and consumption of it.
According to the United Nations, women spend an approximate 14hours a day on both economic and domestic tasks. On average, they take up 53% of the total burden of work in developing economies.
This is more evident in rural areas where women will spend their long hours tending to their families both as bread winners and caretakers. Giving these women access to energy, through renewable energy, means preserving their human capital and consequently improving the quality of their lives.
Strenuous tasks such as water hauling, cooking and cleaning chores, for example, will be made more manageable, increasing these women’s capacity to be more productive for their own development and that of their families.
A 2013 World Bank study showed that 80% of the farmers in Kenya are women and a good number of them are either the main bread-earners or contribute significantly to the well-being of their families through their farming activities. However, agri-business has over the years faced a lot of challenges especially with harsh weather and unpredictable weather conditions, high cost of input and transport as well as high cost of energy.
This has negatively impacted the land and labour in agriculture and for women especially, the possibility of earning substantial incomes through farming. The introduction of renewable energy solutions however has come as a relief for some of them. Not only is it more affordable, but it offers a way for them to mechanize some of the farming activities that are laborious and lengthy.
Moreover, informal jobs mainly run and owned by women (sometimes from their own homes) will benefit a great deal from access and consumption of renewable energy. Many of these small enterprises are run on locally available inexpensive resources and are highly affected by energy and fuel costs.
Improving their accessibility to low cost energy means increasing the efficiency and quality of production, which positively impacts on the direct income to these women and their households.
In fact, this would have a tremendous impact on the urban poor women mostly, who are landless and do not have access to property which can be converted into revenue sources. The use of renewable makes their micro-businesses profitable, safe and environmentally friendly.
They will be able to, for instance, provide lighting which enables them to extend their working hours in public spaces, something which is taken for granted when it comes to their productivity.
Overall, if women are able to participate in the growth and expansion of their own businesses, they gain control of their own means of production and are able to thwart the current prevailing marginalization of their contributions. Therefore a sizeable population in this country will experience improved livelihoods and poverty levels will be greatly reduced.
The U.S Department of Energy Laboratory states that the contribution of renewables to global commercial energy is expected to increase over time from the 9% contribution (mostly hydroelectric power) made in 1990, to 17% in 2020-2025, and 35% in 2050, and possibly as high as 50% by 2050 in a sustained growth or biomass-intensive scenario’ meaning it is an opportune moment to position ourselves for a sustained economic growth through renewable energy.
The only sure way to do this is to provide a thriving environment for women to engage equitably in enterprise and social development – in which energy plays a substantial role. Locally, Kenya Association of Manufacturers through its Centre for Energy Efficiency and Conservation has developed renewable energy policies that can are being implemented by counties in their efforts to increase county revenue and find sustainable ways to grow their economies.
As a matter of fact, fair resource distribution and development of domestic solutions for our citizens as envisioned by devolved system of government, will be possible if we allow women’s participation to flourish and increase through provision of key factors such as renewable energy.
Phyllis Wakiaga is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya.