Energy poverty is high in West Africa: less than half of the population has access to electricity and women’s potential as active participants in the energy sector has been underutilised. However, fifteen West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo) are now putting women at the forefront of a new energy strategy to develop and enable increased access to climate friendly energy throughout the region.
These countries requested help from the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), co-hosted by UNIDO and UN Environment, to develop and harness the capacity of the region’s women and men (as policy makers, entrepreneurs, and researchers) to adopt a gender-responsive approach to improving energy access that combines solutions to both reduce carbon emissions and strengthen capacity to respond to climate change impacts.
Targeting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment is not only important from the perspective of realising women’s rights but is also smart economics. Women are key agents of change and when women and men are equal, economies grow faster; less people remain in poverty, and the overall well-being of people increases.
“For energy to be fully addressed in the region, it is necessary to include women as active agents of change who possess unique knowledge and skills to be acknowledged and utilised in the development of energy and environmental resilience,” says Jukka Uosukainen, CTCN Director.
The CTCN delivers technology assistance at the request of developing countries as they strive to develop energy-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient societies. In order to provide expertise on a broad range of technology issues (from agriculture and energy to transport and waste management), the Centre mobilizes a global network of almost 400 technology companies and institutions to design and deliver customized solutions for countries.
In response to the West African request, the CTCN partnered with the Economic Community of West African States Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the Private Financing Advisory Network (co-hosted by UNIDO and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership) and Partners for Innovation to provide capacity building, investment promotion and business development in the region.
One key aspect of the collaboration is working with women entrepreneurs to develop commercially viable energy projects and to provide coaching on technical and financial skills needed to be competitive as energy producers and suppliers.
Upon the completion of the coaching phase, the projects will be introduced to interested investors, and receive follow-up support and deal-making facilitation. PFAN and CTCN will work closely with female-led climate and clean energy businesses in the region to leverage their expertise as agents of change.
“Beyond the vulnerabilities resulting from differing gender roles, women can be key drivers for for sustainable energy as consumers, producers, intermediaries, researchers and influencers of the sustainable energy future,” says Monica Maduekwe from ECREEE.
By engaging with entrepreneurs, energy and environment ministries, civil society, industry and research institutions in the region, West Africa is laying the groundwork for increased access to affordable, reliable and sustainable forms of energy. Energy improvements will also reduce the burden of household chores typically assigned to women, thus allowing them to engage in productive activities leading not only to their empowerment but also to creating equality among genders. In turn, gender mainstreamed energy initiatives are more effective and more likely to achieve a sustainable impact, since understanding female energy usage facilitates more comprehensive and long-term energy solutions for inclusive growth and development.