Rural Women’s Access to Clean Energy

By Naisola Likimani

This session was convened by the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice and UN Women. Mary Robinson and Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, moderated the session, which was attended by rural women leaders, environmental activists, and government representatives, among others.

Discussions revolved around access to modern and sustainable energy for rural women, and making the link between empowerment of women, access to energy and the upcoming Rio +20 conference on sustainable development, taking place inBrazilthis year.

Ms. Bachelet, Mary Robinson, Nyaradzai Gumbondzvana and other women leaders are part of a “troika” of 50 influential women from around the world who will negotiate on women’s rights during theRio+20 global conference. As such this session was a means to gather inputs, opinions, recommendations and best practices from women leaders that will inform the troika’s negotiations.

Some best practices shared in the meeting:

 –          Solar Sisters is an international group that links entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment and clean energy by using the “Avonmodel” where women train other women on alternative energy sources and sell them the technology, and these women in turn do the same for other women. They work in several countries includingUgandaandBangladesh.

–          Zenab for Women in Development, a grassroots women network in Sudan, shared about the benefits of cooperative farming which brings income that women have in turn used to bring electricity to their villages (drawn from the hydro-electric dams in the country).                                               

Access to clean energy must be linked to women’s economic empowerment and speak to the reality of their lives. For example inGhanawomen street food vendors are being provided with clean cookstoves.

A challenge raised repeatedly was the barrier of cost. This has led to “projectisation” and pilot projects rather than large scale, transformative change in the use of clean energy.

Several solutions to this challenge were proposed. One is to ensure that climate change mitigation funds include funds for initiatives for rural women’s access to clean energy on a large scale. Another is to lobby and educate members of parliaments on the issue so they can approve tax waivers for energy saving technologies. The private sector is also getting increasingly interested in these initiatives, however we must engage them to have a stronger gender dimension in their investments. Currently they view rural women as consumers or beneficiaries rather than partners who should be consulted and involved at every level.

At a policy level it is imperative to document and collect evidence of how women are benefitting from particular subsidies and other affirmative actions, to avoid the policies being cut, sometimes at the behest of international finance institutions such as the World Bank.

Radha Muthiah of Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves noted that as much innovation as there has been in design, manufacturing, distribution and adoption of energy efficient technologies, we must move from pilots and scale up for larger impact, incentivize women owned businesses, and move from relying solely on grants to attracting investment from venture capitalists and other investors.

 “Access to and control over clean energy sources is essential to unleashing the potential of rural women and girls” – Michelle Bachelet, UN Women

Naisola Likimani is the Head of Advocacy at FEMNET. She is currently in New York attending the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

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