Powering Businesswomen Through Renewable Energy
October 12, 2023
Socio-cultural and structural barriers minimise the participation of Eswatini women entrepreneurs in the energy sector. According to the Draft Gender Audit report (2023), the energy sector is male-dominated, not encouraging many businesswomen to enter the space. As a result, very few businesswomen in Eswatini, like Winile Lukhele, have ventured into energy supply.
Lukhele is a member of Kukhanyangekonga Cooperative, which makes solar-powered lamps and torches to bring light to households and small businesses that do not have access to electricity. Although Eswatini has a higher national electrification rate of over 80% compared to 40% for Africa, it imports about 70% of its power from neighbouring countries. In addition, 90% of the rural population still uses traditional energy sources, such as firewood, contributing to deforestation. Lukhele is part of the 66% of the rural population with no access to electricity. Women are primarily responsible for the laborious firewood collection for household needs such as cooking.
As a result, together with eight other women from Luzelweni in the Manzini Region, Lukhele established the cooperative after a six-month solar engineering and water harvesting training in India in 2019. The training resulted from a partnership between the Coalition of Informal Economic Associations and Barefoot College International in India, supported by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. However, as she relates, the cooperative has been facing numerous challenges, including not getting access to funding and raw materials, which, as far as they know, are available in India.
"These challenges have lowered our confidence, limiting our ability to develop and grow this business to a point where we supply general dealers and small traders with our products," said Lukhele.
The fact that men dominate businesses in the energy sector does not help the situation because it creates a psychological barrier that makes them believe they do not stand a chance. As a result, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy and the Deputy Prime Minister's Office, working with the University of Eswatini's Centre for Sustainable Energy Research and Entrepreneurship Department, supported by UNDP, are exploring using clean energy technologies to enhance women's livelihoods.Under this partnership, 50 women entrepreneurs were trained in energy and entrepreneurship under the Powering Equality project from 02 to 05 October 2023. The participants comprised six associations, including women with disabilities.
The Powering Equality project aims to support governments to use renewable energy to help women reduce time spent on unproductive domestic work, such as fetching firewood while focusing on clean energy technologies for economic empowerment. This project is made possible through support from the Republic of Korea and Luxembourg under UNDP's Funding Window for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony of the women participants held at Sibane Sami Hotel, Ezulwini, on 06 October, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Nessie Golakai said one of the key highlights of the Powering Equality project is that it will increase women's economic empowerment through capacity building to develop new businesses and access renewable energy markets. In addition, the project will support measures to boost women's participation in energy decision-making and facilitate policy dialogues that aim for clean energy policies, strategies and plans that accelerate gender equality.
"As UNDP, we strongly commend the Government of the Kingdom Eswatini for making the inclusion of women in the energy sector a priority, as evidenced by the Networking Reinforcement and Access Project – Closing the Gender Gap in Eswatini Energy Sector project," she said.
Speaking at the same event, the acting Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Sicelo Nxumalo, said having women in the energy sector will greatly impact the country's economy. He appreciated the training, which included the following topics:
- Sustainable living and transition to sustainable energy to combat climate change.
- Gender dimension of clean energy transitions.
- Business plan development.
- Building a strong business brand.
- Women in renewable energy
- Sustainable living: Livelihood with Off-grid energy solutions
- Sustainable Firewood startup business
- Business opportunities for Solar dryers and solar cooker
- Energy efficiency and periodic energy audits: to saving on energy bills
- Tax compliance for startups
- Business etiquette and marketing
- Presentation of Business ideas on Clean Energy transition startup
"This work complements the Ministry's efforts to see gender mainstreamed in the energy sector activities," said Nxumalo. He added that the Ministry's gender mainstreaming initiatives are informed by the National Energy Policy (2018) in recognition of the prevailing underrepresentation of women in the energy sector.
"Women, we believe in you, and you can do this. The ball is now in your court," said Nxumalo. The participants will receive starter packs to support them in their businesses and further training under the project.