Technology is a tool for empowering women to change their lives for the better, said UN Women at the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) on Monday.
“Women are at the frontline of climate change, both as the worst affected and as change agents,” said Auxilla Ponga, Representive for the UN Women South Africa Multi Country Office. UN Women was created in July 2010 as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Pong was speaking at a side event at SAIREC about the role women play in bringing about change when it comes to policies and technologies about renewable energy and climate change. She emphasised that women cannot be excluded from these conversations because “women participation is critical for human rights and to ensure an equitable climate change agenda”.
Pong said presently there was “limited participation and leadership of women in the energy sector” especially in terms of women owned businesses, women in leadership positions, and when it comes to employment and procurement processes.
The worrying thing is that despite this, “women remain the most affected” within the changing climate and policies and regulatory frameworks being developed to deal with these real challenges. To enable and ensure women function effectively within the economy and are able to make a positive contribution, Ponga said: “There should be a focus on the economic empowerment of women as it has a multiplier-effect that enables women to defend their rights more effectively in all areas of their lives”.
In addition, she said there should also be “gender responsive enterprise development strategies and an advocating for inclusive business practices including procurement and access to finance”. During the session Teresa Scheepers, a municipal manger from the !Kheis municipality and Ninky Shuenyane, managing director of Sun Oven and Fazeed Ishmael shared their successful renewable energy stories.
Scheepers spoke about her Solar Home Systems, a model that she oversaw being implemented in the !Kheis informal settlement where residents do not have access to energy services. Acknowledging that the South African Constitution states that people have a right to dignity, Scheepers said the Solar Home Systems model focuses on “prioritising the basic needs of the community”.
Each home has an installed solar panel that enables them to have three lights inside their homes, and security lights outside, which are beneficial for educational, daytime, and reading activities. “They are able to get access to information as they are able to watch television, listen to the radio and charge their cellphones,” she explained.
In addition, Scheepers said the women in the community benefit as one woman per 50 houses “is trained to monitor and maintain the solar installations, and is certified to manage them”. In this way, “we are trying to empower women so they can do their work well and create jobs,” Scheepers said.
Shuenyane shared her insights in how she saw an opportunity to help women who wanted to start their businesses, but were concerned about high electricity bills with the Sun Oven concept. She bought the licence from a company to manufacture the oven in South Africa, and explained how the oven, which weighs 9.5kg works as – not just an oven – but a multi-purpose tool for baking, boiling, cooking, and dehydrating foods.
A collapsible, portable box, Shuenyane said the oven suits a variety of purposes, such as outdoors events, disaster relief management and women living in areas far from energy services. It helps women and young girls, who would have to spend most of their time looking for cooking fuels such as oil, paper, and wood, to use their time more constructively. Mothers can spend more time with their children and girls can use the time they save to upskill themselves through educational activities.
Shuenyane said the Sun Oven’s versatility crosses the urban-rural spectrum, and “ensures that families can have a properly cooked meal”. She added that the Sun Oven doesn’t need oil or fats, so food is healthier, and there are no smoke inhalation risks, which is usually the case when cooking outdoors on a fire.
Families could save more than R400 per month with the Sun Oven, which makes it an affordable way for families to access energy. Ishmael spoke about how a modular aquaponics model that harnesses solar power is helping people to access food through sustainable energy. With this model, people can grow fish or crustaceans, as well as grow vegetables in a single model.