Whether proscribed by law or not, unequal treatment of women continues to pose challenges in both industrially developed and lesser developed countries worldwide. With an estimated 1.2 billion worldwide people living without electricity, so does energy poverty.
The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) and GE Africa are working to improve both. In a public-private partnership, the two organizations on Sept. 21 launched the Women & Energy Challenge.
As part of USADF’s broader-based Off-Grid Energy Challenge, the new program will provide grant funding and other resources to support development and growth of local businesses and initiatives that are owned and run by African women, or benefit them substantially in other ways.
Taking on Gender Inequality and Energy Poverty
Addressing gender inequality and energy poverty are two strategic goals for the U.N. and multilateral and national development agencies. The fifth of the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and the seventh is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Women make up less than 25 percent of the global renewable energy workforce, less in Africa, USADF points out.
“The Women & Energy Challenge highlights the need to support technologies advanced by African women innovators and leaders who have lower access to finance than men in many African countries, where energy poverty disproportionately affects women,” the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit said.
Lack of access to commercial banking products and services is one major obstacle.
“Women entrepreneurs have been disadvantaged for a long time, as they do not have access to credit through the formal banking system, and also lack skills to grow their businesses,” Joyce Gemma, winner of a 2014 Off-Grid Energy Challenge grant, said.
Gemma is the owner and manager of Bomafasi, a Kenyan company that distributes home solar products. Bomafasi is using the funds from its Off-Grid Energy Challenge grant to establish distribution hubs in rural areas.
African women also bear the brunt of energy poverty. That includes suffering from high rates of health problems from smoke or indoor pollution. Hence, they stand to benefit most from use of affordable, emissions-free renewable energy products and services, USADF said.
The Africa Women & Energy Challenge
USADF and GE Africa have been awarding Off-Grid Energy Challenge grants and providing technical and other support to female African clean energy entrepreneurs since the program’s inception in 2013. The Women & Energy Challenge is the first independent initiative that specifically aims to award grants that benefit African women exclusively, USADF Regional Director Tom Coogan told Renewable Energy World.
“We’re looking to target women in two ways: by funding and otherwise supporting African women-owned and managed businesses. Secondly, we will award grants to others, such as microfinance programs, that enable women to buy solar lighting and other products that they can use to start businesses of their own,” Coogan said.
USADF is in the midst of reviewing its budget and other resources for the coming year. The tentative project plan for the Women & Energy Challenge is to commence accepting grant proposals in January 2017, evaluate them in February and begin making grant awards in March, Coogan said. Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia are currently on the prospective list of countries USADF is considering rolling out the program, but that’s subject to change.
A GE Africa representative with relevant experience will sit on the committee that judges the merits of Women & Energy Challenge grant proposals. Local USADF partners in participating countries will implement the program on the ground.
GE Africa and USADF have joined with national government representatives and U.S. embassies in organizing and participating in local promotional events that get the word out locally, often in remote rural areas in past years. No schedule has been firmed up as yet, but USADF excepts that will be the case for the Women & Energy Challenge, Coogan said.
“African women remain the cornerstone of the African family and community,” USADF’s recently appointed president and CEO C.D. Glin said in a Sept. 21 statement. “They are leading their communities yet suffer the brunt of energy poverty. Ingenuity and innovation will be unleashed with these seed capital awards — and we can’t wait to see the applications roll in.”
Lead image credit: USADF