Rural women empowered to access renewable energy Mrs Judith Marera

Ivan Zhakata Herald Correspondent

As Zimbabwe considers renewable energy a game changer for rural development, Government, private companies and foreign donors are all working to improve women’s lives by increasing access to affordable and clean energy.

Only 13 percent of rural households have access to electricity and because of financial constraints, most rural women still rely on solid biomass fuel for thermal needs and have no access to clean energy sources.

It is against this background that a number of women have embarked on projects to empower their colleagues in rural communities in terms of energy provision.

Judith Marera, the co-founder and chief executive officer for Lanforce Energy, a women-led for profit social enterprise in the renewable energy sector, realises the challenges women and children go through in search of firewood for cooking having herself been born and raised in rural Zimbabwe.

“We are on a mission to eradicate energy poverty and empowering women by going green for future generations,” she said.

Marera’s initiative is targeting to empower women in Mashonaland East province, creating employment for 25 women as community based agents in Uzumba, Murehwa and Pfungwe where biogas digesters are being set up. Because of her efforts, Marera is one of 54 women in Africa philanthropy the Honoris United Universities is offering a scholarship to study any programme of choice at one of its universities.

She is also a beneficiary of the 2021 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship programme and last year, she won awards from the Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Zimbabwe (SMEAZ) and the Chartered Institute of Project Managers Zimbabwe (CIPMZ) for her efforts to empower fellow women with whom she shares a background.

Lanforce Energy’s biogas digesters have proved to be a hit in rural communities where women have found a viable and cheap alternative to electricity and firewood. Sharon Yeti, the chief executive officer for Powerlive Zimbabwe, is leading a programme to provide clean, safe and sustainable energy solutions to women.

Her ambition is to make women’s lives better and empower them in the smallest way possible through renewable resources. She believes access to energy services can improve women’s health and well-being thereby supporting the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy in line with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is estimated to be still relying on solid biomass fuel for thermal needs and has no access to clean energy sources while about 20 percent of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel because of the unreliability of electricity supply and financial constraints.

The 2019 National Renewable Energy Policy identifies energy as a vehicle for providing electricity to millions of households. This is akin to what mobile telephony did for telecommunications. It enabled millions of people to access the latest technology, bringing about new opportunities for development.

According to a 2017 report by Climate Investment Funds (CIF) renewable energy and energy efficiency projects can play an important role in providing access to energy for the approximately 1,2 billion people or 17 percent of the global population which has no access to electricity or liquid fuels.

Shifting the energy sector mix can lead to new economic opportunities and strengthened livelihoods for women and men, as well as improved health, safety, and quality of life.

CIF says as an additional key contribution, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects can contribute to the global imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While these projects have the potential for broad and far-reaching benefits, they are found to be more effective for example in relation to improved technology adoption when gender equality is taken into account.

To take gender into account requires identification and assessment of a project’s potentially different impacts on men and women involved and ensuring equitable benefit sharing.

Different renewable energy sub-sectors offer benefits that can be leveraged to improve the livelihoods, employment opportunities, and lives of women, their families, and communities.

They also present challenges that need to be addressed to ensure women and men benefit equitably. Renewable energy value chains for large and small-scale renewable energy sub-sectors include grid and non-grid connected infrastructure.

These pose different employment and livelihood options, as well as varied constraints that need to be considered to meet women and men’s needs and interests along the renewable energy value chain — from employment to consumption.

According to a 2011 World Bank report, women’s economic empowerment is a key ingredient in overall development.

While men are already involved in energy projects, women are not always involved equitably. This is the reason why the likes of Marera and Yeti have taken the initiative to help disadvantaged and energy deficient women in rural communities.

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