Going further, faster - together, but fairly and justly!22 March 2017
by Dr. Magi Matinga
How time flies! We are already two years into our four-year research project. It has also been six years since the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) was launched. We are now a third of the way to 2030.
This April, the third SE4All Forum will be held in New York where over 1,000 high-level representatives from government, business, civil society and international organisations will gather. Stories will be shared - many of them claiming success. Old partnerships will be strengthened and new ones formed. Ideas will be exchanged and investments promised. The theme this year is "Going Further, Faster - Together." For us, at the EFEWEE project, going further, faster, and together has never been more important. As we reflect on our experiences in the sector and especially in the last two years, we would like to remind the Forum to act on their commitments to the empowerment of women and other marginalised groups, and to go further fairly and justly.
Going further The SE4All initiative does recognise the position of women with respect to energy access as well as their as partners in meeting SE4All goals. Opportunities for women in the energy sector need to include and go beyond clean cooking and portable solar. Women and men in developing countries produce so much of the world's agro-produce. Tea, coffee, cocoa, spices, nuts, oils are some of the products that delegates will be enjoying. Many will have been produced by poor women and men who earn in a day, less than the price of a cup of tea. Without modern energy for processing agro-produce, water supply for domestic and productive uses, and without reliable electricity, these women and men will continue to sell their yields as primary products without value addition. Hence in source countries, people will continue to earn low wages, perpetuating poverty. While their products are processed in far off, developed countries, their own children, as they grow up, will continue to suffer unemployment.
The SE4All initiative has in the last 6 years generated unprecedented interest in delivery of modern energy solutions in developing and transition countries. In many countries, especially least developing countries (LDCs), actual investments continue to lag behind the investment required to meet the 2030 goals. Many LDCs have in the last decade made efforts to create "an enabling environment" but more needs to be done. Even with "good policies" most of these areas are simply too poor to be attractive markets to investors who have a wide range of transition economies to choose from. Without a transformative injection of public financing to leverage private investments, the 2030 objectives, including access for all, will simply be fanciful targets. Poor women and men will bear the burden of that failure.
For women in particular, going faster means doing things more efficiently and managing their time according to their choices. The EFEWEE project has made it clear that time-saving energy solutions - whether due to better lit environments, improved water supply, more efficient cooking, or powered agro-processing - can give women the opportunity not just to fulfil traditional development outcomes of education and entrepreneurship but also their personal desires for spending time with friends and family and get a highly needed opportunity for some rest.
After generations with practices that discriminate women and the current, poor levels of investments in women's interests and needs, women continue to lag behind not just in accessing modern energy, but also in participation in energy value chains. Even as energy value chains are slowly becoming more inclusive, women's involvement has largely been in lower value products and services. It is crucial that empowered women are represented on all rungs of energy value chains and play transformative roles.
Similarly, policy making, alliance building and investment decisions should involve well informed women who have the power to negotiate and if needed, veto decisions that are not favouring different categories of women and the marginalised. This will require investing in women's knowledge on energy, on gender relations, on power and related issues. It will also require investing in women so that female entrepreneurs can own or get a controlling stake in energy investments at various levels.
But also going fairly and justly
Although not explicitly part of this year's SE4All theme, as we go further, faster, and together, we also need to pay attention to going fairly and justly. The quest for modern or renewable energies should not impose developmental barriers to high (such as push for expensive investments that increase indebtedness) to surmount on developing countries. Nor should the inclusion of women result in abdication of responsibilities by the public, private and CSO sectors. The historical advantage of those of us who have benefitted from previously subsidised (in many different ways) modern energy should be acknowledged and with that, the responsibility to support access and use for those at the far end of the access pathway. The engagement of women as entrepreneurs should not be at any costs (e.g. indebtedness in the name of access to finance, increased time pressures due to time spent on project meetings or meeting project goals) or simply for our project reporting. Ultimately, the women and men of developing countries should be allowed the opportunity to make their own choices.