We are changing the mindset

ENERGIA’s International Coordinator and Programme Manager Sheila Oparaocha attended the three-day Women’s Energy Entrepreneurship workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The event brought together people from all around the world to discuss women’s energy entrepreneurship and explore the role of gender-informed approaches that scale access to household energy, as well as increase gender equality and women’s empowerment. Apart from participating in the discussions at the international meeting, Sheila Oparaocha also spoke about these pertinent topics in a live interview at one of the leading TV stations in Kenya, KTN.

The interview is summarised below and available online.

When asked about the specific sectors where women’s role is especially important, Sheila explained that women have a comparative advantage and are dominating in sectors such as improved cookstoves. She continued: “We also find that in the off-grid lighting – particularly in the rural areas where it is too expensive to extend our grid, where large scale energy infrastructure does not reach – we can use solar systems, from the solar lights all the way to the solar home systems to run your TVs, radios, to charge your mobile phones, to run refrigerators … This is an area where we find that women are predominant and succeed … Also when we talk about fuels, in terms of briquettes – which is a more environmentally friendly fuel – we find that women tend to excel in producing these types of fuels and in selling them.”

Whereas a lot of emphasis is laid on scaling up energy access in the rural areas, that does not mean that urban areas do not hold great potential for empowering women in and through the energy sector. “In the urban areas you have a growing population of young women, professional women, who are looking for jobs, who are educating themselves, and they are not just interested in educating themselves in the soft sectors … but also in the technical sectors.” Sheila referred to studies such as one conducted by Goldman Sachs, which found that there was a much higher return to shareholders in companies that employed women in the technical areas in the energy sector.

For women to play the role they can play in the energy sector, we need to create and provide appropriate incentives. Sheila emphasized the need for capacity building and training, not only regarding the technical aspects but also in terms of running a solid business and managing the related investments and funds. Another important area is financing. Sheila highlighted the need to develop affordable financial instruments that are suitable for women’s needs.

The interviewer then wondered whether there was infrastructure in place to help women tap into the renewable energy areas. Sheila explained that the issue was neither the technology nor the energy source: “We have geothermal, a lot of sun, a lot of wind, a lot of biomass … But what we need to do is get the right instruments in place: we need to get the right policies in place, we need to get the right financing in place, we need to get the right capacity-building … So it’s not the technology, it’s really the additional factors to make that work for us and to make that work for women in the energy sector.”

Sheila noted that there is growing awareness of the need to increase the share of renewable energy in our energy mix. But we need to create the environment which will bring in the private investment, mobilizes women and unlock that great potential. “I think the political will is there, but we still need to go a step further and have the right policies and instruments.”