Energy is an important part of our daily lives. From ensuring our food is properly preserved and cooked, to staying connected to the world by powering our cellphones and computers, electricity enables everyone to live more productively.
Communities are empowered to shape their future with electricity that illuminates street lamps, health clinics, homes and schools. When basic energy needs are met, there’s an opportunity to access healthcare facilities where life-saving medications are properly preserved in refrigerators. Children are able to do their homework at night and dark streets where crime thrives are brightly illuminated. Access to electricity has the potential to transform lives and bring families out of extreme poverty.
But what happens when electricity isn’t readily available?
Often in rural areas, people suffer from energy supply that is of poor quality and inconsistent or they don’t have access to electricity at all. Lack of access to modern energy sources limits economic development opportunities and keeps people trapped in the cycle of poverty.
More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Only approximately 32% of the population has access.
In vulnerable communities, not having consistent connection equals an unsafe and unhealthy environment – especially for women and girls. The responsibility of collecting resources like firewood, fuel and water often falls solely on women and girls, and the distance to gather these household necessities is often very far. Walking on roads or fields to go back home after dusk and at night can also be unsafe, leaving women and girls vulnerable to sexual assault. They also suffer most from inhaling black, smoky fumes trapped in the home from cooking because of poor ventilation.
Climate change exacerbates the vulnerability of women living in developing countries. From the effects of drought to deforestation, women often disproportionately suffer compared to men because of lack of access to education and financial independence, as well as gender-based violence.
Programs focusing on access to clean energy, and especially on the intersection between access and gender inclusivity, are steadily increasing.
Why women? Why clean energy?
Women invest 90% of their income into their family’s well being. Putting clean energy resources into women’s hands can have a powerful impact on women’s lives, as well their families’ and communities’, as well as the environment. When women are empowered with the proper tools, they are effective agents of change.
The world is experiencing a renewable, clean energy revolution and low-cost solar panels and lamps are lighting more rural areas in Africa. Families save money instead of spending it on expensive kerosene fuel or candles and they are empowered to stay productive for longer amounts of time without inhaling toxic fumes.
More efficient cookstoves reduce fuel use by 30-60%, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions and reducing impacts on forests, habitats and biodiversity.
In collaboration with Solar Sister—a women led social enterprise that empowers women entrepreneurs to sell solar powered light and phone charging solutions, and cleaner cook stoves to their communities in rural Africa—Project Concern International (PCI) is helping to improve women’s standing in communities through our Women Empowered (WE) program that focuses on the social and economic empowerment of women. Looking beyond dollars and cents, advancing social capital and opportunities for women to participate in their community’s development are crucial components to pulling people out of poverty.
Neha Misra, Co-Founder and Chief Collaboration Officer of Solar Sister, said, “Women’s economic empowerment and clean energy access for better health, education and environment go hand in hand. Women are not victims but solutions for building sustainable communities.”
Solar Sister has launched more than 2,500 entrepreneurs who have reached more than 740,000 people with the benefits of clean energy in Tanzania, Nigeria and Uganda.
WE’s Wealth Generation Pathways (WGP) integrates our WE savings-led groups with private organizations to create access for women entrepreneurs to multiply their income at a greater rate. Higher income equals a better quality of life and a stronger social standing for these women. At the same time, clean energy leads to better health, education and safety. This creates a positive ripple effect for the individual, the household and the overall community.
Zuhura is a WE group member and social entrepreneur in Tanzania who purchased portable solar lights and energy-saving cook stoves through her local Solar Sister who is also a WE member. The savings by switching to clean energy is helping Zuhura expand her personal business of selling secondhand clothing and provide for her six children. She replaced the family’s old kerosene lights and stove, and her family can now breathe easier.
For Jovina, Zuhura’s 12-year-old daughter, having a solar light at home also means being able to finish her homework. The solar light produces reliable, brighter light, and Jovina can focus on her studies and her future, even after dusk.