By Basil Malaki & Nuria Mshare
When women are empowered, they have the ability to play active roles in energy systems, break the cycle of poverty, while strengthening local and national economies. This is also true for women in Tanzania, but there is still work to be done. We need a strong focus on women’s inclusion in energy systems not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes sense for families, communities and for the economy as a whole.
Community participation and empowerment is key in promoting inclusion. In June 2018, we convened an energy dialogue in Korogwe town to promote more inclusion of women in energy.
Community members in the Solar Sister network of entrepreneurs in the region attended the event organised by the Energy Change Lab and Solar Sister to troubleshoot the challenges barring women from taking an active role in the energy sector.
Solar Sister is an organization committed to eradicate energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity.
Understanding the women empowerment challenge
The Youth Programme Manager from the Energy Change Lab, Nuria Mshare, is a young woman herself and was acted as the moderator of the Energy Dialogue. “Women have been socialized into traditional roles in a patriarchal society. When we come out to call for inclusion of women in energy, our aim is to change this narrative”, Nuria stressed during the session.
Guided by the Lab’s theory U tool for problem solving, the energy dialogue participants were tasked to reimagine the overarching challenges limiting women involvement in energy in the region. Following this, they were asked to propose viable and sustainable solutions and recommend key players needed to successfully implement these recommendations.
“We live in a male dominated society. Our culture dictates that I, as a woman, should be loyal to the man when he says I should quit business and focus on family. Then I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing and pick up other domestic roles”, said Rukia Karata, a Solar Sister agent. Challenges such as this can be addressed best if both men and women are educated on the importance of inclusion and the vital role women can play in the sector.
Mariam Athumani, a participant from Muheza village also asserted that, “Domestically, women are the largest contributors to energy consumption. We spend most of the time at home where we use energy for cooking, lighting, ensuring that our children study and for other related domestic chores. Why should we be left out when energy decisions are made? We have an in-depth understanding of energy usage at the household level and beyond. This is something most men should understand”.
Why we need gender mainstreaming
As a revenue-generating alternative, women in the area are heavily reliant on farming to generate income. Nevertheless, during poor harvest seasons or when there is a delay in payment after supply of farm harvests, women are greatly impacted financially, which makes them reliant on their spouses for financial support.
At present, many women in Tanzania feel that there are many social and cultural systematic challenges that need to be addressed to level the business environment to accommodate both men and women in Korogwe region.
Supply of solar products in the region is a potential area for the generation of sustainable income. Although this should be an opportunity for women as well, often this is not the case. Since most roads in rural areas are very poor and somewhat inaccessible during rainy seasons, men are advantaged to access these markets since they can navigate the rough terrains on motorcycles unlike the women, as it is the norm in Tanzania where riding motorcycles is considered a ‘manly’ job.
As a revenue-generating alternative, women in the area are heavily reliant on farming to generate income. Nevertheless, during poor harvest seasons or when there is a delay in payment after supply of farm harvests, women are greatly impacted financially, which makes them reliant on their spouses for financial support. This ultimately means that it is difficult for women to make independent energy decisions such as what type of solar products or appliances to purchase.
As champions of inclusion of women, the Energy Change Lab believes in gender mainstreaming even, or maybe especially, when discussing matters pertinent to women. For this specific dialogue, we therefore saw a need to have men join the discussion on the role men should play in ensuring women are actively involved in the energy sector. We were happy to see that the Energy Dialogue attracted 10 women and four men of diverse backgrounds, covering mostly farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs.
What still needs to be done?
In the past years, Tanzania has seen improvements in women inclusion in the energy sector, however, the Energy Dialogue revealed certain areas that require attention if we want to make the sector truly inclusive.
Women participants who attended the dialogue were of the opinion that Local Government Authorities (LGAs) should be at the centre of promoting inclusion of women in decision-making and leadership positions at the grass-root level since this will have a direct influence on the community perception on the role of women as leaders.
Sisty Basil, the Energy Change Lab’s National Coordinator argued that we need more women in leadership in the energy sector for purposes of public decision-making. “Naturally, women have different perspectives and ideas for change”, he said in his final remarks.
Companies and organizations working at the grass-root level were also mentioned as key influencers needed to formulate gender inclusive policies in an effort to empower women when it comes to issues such as access to loans and, productive use appliances.
We are committed to speed up the progress of inclusion of women in the energy Sector possible to realize the vision of inclusive and sustainable growth.