MPowering Women with Solar Energy

Sophie Meierhofer & Eva Cabañas, 08 March 2020

Unlocking the potential of solar energy in Africa brings countless opportunities for the local population: access to energy, creation of new income opportunities, direct jobs and many more. To sum up, solar energy positively impacts almost all development areas. However, in the course of our activities, we encountered one question again and again: How does access to energy promote gender equality?

The facts show that the solar energy sector worldwide has created 4.57 million jobs. However, on average, women only account for 35% of the workforce in renewable energy companies. They face multiple barriers when entering jobs in this sector such as social and cultural norms, unequal asset ownership or insufficient skills due to a lack of gender specific training. Thus, it is not only important to hire women, but also to encourage them by offering more inclusive training and working environments. 

In order to approach this complex, but important subject, we met with Hellen Mulenga, our head instructor for marketing and sales in Zambia:  

How does the lack of energy affect women and their daily lives in rural Zambia?

Well, women in rural areas are the ones responsible for food. This means that they have to wake up at 4 AM to go to the fields and bring home big logs of firewood to cook for the family. Also, by the time an African woman has finished preparing the meal, washing the dishes and putting the kids to sleep, it’s already dark. Solar lighting Systems combined with clean cookstoves will therefore help them to save a lot of effort and time that they can then invest in other things. And once they have reliable energy, they can also develop their own business and generate income allowing them to become more independent.

You have been working in solar over the past years. How do you experience working in this sector, also in terms of gender equality?

The energy sector is considered to be more of a men’s job because of the technical part of it. 

Here in Africa, we see men as superior to women. Even at home, girls have to do the dirty work because boys are considered to be the “kings of the house”. The same mentality is often taken to the workplace, where men behave as if they were better at the job than women. Men wish to overshadow women and make them look like they don’t have the required skills. 

How do you think that these barriers could be eliminated?

One way to work against this situation is to put an emphasis on training women and provide them with the required skills to fulfill their tasks. Training amongst women gives them also self-confidence and provides for a room to exchange and network. This is important so that men and women start working together as equals.

Where do you see the opportunity for off-grid solar solutions to promote gender equality? 

It’s so amazing when I walk in the streets of Lusaka (or Zambia more generally), and I increasingly see street lights, traffic lights, security lights at shopping malls or government offices powered by solar. In rural areas, access to solar products is still difficult. However, the impact there is amazing: Energy and especially paired with productive use appliances, will help relieve women from the drudgery of hard manual labour, provide more security through lightning at night, and support them in finding new income opportunities.

Of all the renewable energy businesses in Zambia, solar is expected to grow the fastest until 2030. This provides THE opportunity for a lot of women to be trained and employed.

The topics of gender equality and women empowerment occupy a central place in MPower – from an internal perspective as well as with regards to our customers. Activities MPower and its partners conduct around the topic include:

  • Analysis of the energy demands involved in the types of activities in which women are highly engaged and provide innovative solutions.
  • Awareness raising on gender and energy issues.
  • Training of women in entrepreneurship, leadership and gender equality.
  • Access to finance for women, as entrepreneurs or consumers.
  • Incorporate women as agents in energy supply delivery, repairs and maintenance of technology.

It is still a long way to go, but MPower and its partners have made the Promotion of Gender Equality one of their priorities

MPowerMPowering Women with Solar Energy