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Women Claim Their Seat in Renewable Energy

By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU – The Ministry of Natural Resources, Lesotho Renewable energy and energy access project and stakeholders held a women in energy event, which called women on board to participate and be at the forefront of the energy space.

Down the years, there has been a realization of scarcity of women in the energy sector, a space prevalently known to be male dominated. With that at hand, the aim of the event was therefore, to find ways women could be included in the energy sector’s decision making, and to deliberate the role of women in bringing equity to the sector. This is because women were discovered to be the primary users of energy, from cooking to lighting and much more, which accentuates the importance of women being present to participate and give their views where key decisions are taken for the betterment of the country.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Mohlomi Moleko encouraged women to think big and to not shy away from being at the forefront of the energy space. This is because there are a number of opportunities for sub-contract jobs and it has come to his realization that it is mostly men who pursue those opportunities. He also encouraged that the sector should be observed for the vast opportunities it possesses. “I think the most important thing when you look at the development of this country is energy. We need to become self-sufficient with energy and that will stir the economy into making sure that households, businesses and industries have energy. So you need to understand what we are doing to become self-sufficient in energy and what we are working on to become the net-exporters of energy”, he said. 

He therefore highlighted that there are 200 megawatts of energy in Lesotho, of which 72 megawatts are generated by Muela Hydro-power plant. This means there is a deficit of 128 megawatts, and to fill that gap, there arose a need to get a generation site of the energy spectrum. “So we are currently constructing about 100 mw of solar energy in Mafeteng and there are about two projects. “Just looking at those two projects, there are opportunities for Sub-contract work, it just depends on how one can take advantage of these opportunities”. He declared that the ministry is also working towards supplementing the deficit by working with a company from Belgium, which will build a wind farm of about 90 megawatts in the Mohale’s Hoek district. There is also a joined venture with a local company for more megawatts.    

Moreover the Minister mentioned that there is hydro-power that needs harnessing in the country. He further highlighted that opportunities will arise for construction companies to build transmission lines for households and companies. “So it might be in your best interest to look at the whole spectrum to figure out what you can do, whether it is supplying material to those contractors, or coming up with companies that will engage with them, either way, you need to start thinking in a much bigger way. I normally say go big or go home.

The country Director of African Clean Energy, Rethabile Mafura, stated that the reason for the scarcity women in the energy sector is that they were marginalized in the past and not allowed to be at the forefront, especially in male dominated sectors like those of energy. It goes as far back as to not being given an equal chance of education and learning more about issues relating to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) in the past years, due to the expectation of carrying out feminine roles instead of studying.

With that at hand and the world evolving towards equity and equality, there was an evident gap discovered which could be filled by “smart” women. Women who have broken the barriers of conforming to whatever is said and expected of them regardless of what they feel is right. Women who according to Dr. Thakane Makume, are beyond reasonable doubt confident to work with and touch electricity.

With that as a case, Mafura therefore urged girl children to be taught about the importance of going to school and doing well in their studies.  They should further be encouraged to excel and pursue their interest of science and technology subjects. “This is because with the right education and training, women have potential of being great leaders”, she said.

She further encouraged women to step out of their shells because they are worth much more and should not have to feel like certain things or people are out of their league, which often pulls them back from networking and achieving great things.

 Mafura pointed out that down the years, a lot of women did not get opportunities for education and training for this type of space. This was rather unfortunate because energy mostly affects women since they use it for cooking and feeding their families, lighting and carrying out other household duties. However, it is not right that they do not get involved in energy decision making topics and it is time for change. She stated that the country has to work towards nurturing women to become great leaders of tomorrow. She indicated that this is not a luxury topic but a life pressing matter.

Adding to that, the Chief Executive Officer of BAM Foundation stated that women are very creative and always find ways of making ends meet, especially for their families. But they often hold back and doubt their abilities when it comes to making decisions relating to the development of the country and how to best improve the economy. She therefore encouraged women to become open-minded and not be reluctant in taking opportunities present in the country because they are very inventive and are capable of finding ways to make situations work in their favor. “For me energy is everywhere, so whatever business one is in, they are in the energy space. It is just a matter of using energy directly or indirectly. So now that we are talking about clean energy-efficient energy, let us find the right resources”, she said.

She urged women to not be fearful, but to become bold enough to approach powerful women who are already in the space. They should take seriously the power that lies in networking and connecting well with people as this will take them a step further in their endeavors. She further encouraged them to take advantage of BEDCO for capacity building and LEAP for financing “Not all of us are entrepreneurs, but we should all excel in our work spaces for the development of the economy”, she said.

On another note, Dr. Thakane Makume, Corporate Statistician at Lesotho Electricity Company, stated that about 50% of the population has electricity in their homes, which means many households still do not have access to electricity. Logically, there is at least one women per household who still has to go out in search of an alternative energy source to use. She further deliberated that scarcity of energy comes with sanitation, water and food scarcity. Additionally, women have to walk long miles in search of ways to feed their families, therefore there should be work in progress to change the situation.

The Project Coordinator for World Bank funded LREEAP Keketso Silase, deliberated it was time women bridged the gap in the energy sector. Because energy is an enabler of development. She further described the project’s main aim as to increase energy access in the rural and urban areas of Lesotho.   She said the objective for the event was to deliberate the role of women in the sector and ensure that there is women empowerment, employment, entrepreneurship and productivity in the energy space.

The Co-founder of Women in Sustainable Energy in Lesotho (WISE-L), Marorisang Makututsa, enlightened that there are challenges which women encounter, that prevent them from progressing in the energy sector. One of them is that women-owned enterprises experience absence of social capital such as mentors and networks. “This is because as women, we look and learn from those who come before us and have walked this journey. So mentorship is very important.”

Another challenge is that women-led businesses remain in the informal sector and some do not even have trading licenses while some are registered in their husbands’ names, thus leading to the assumption that women are incompetent for the sector.

But on the bright side, the gender development policy of 2018-2030 states that as much as climate change affects everyone, it identified women and girls as vulnerable and should be given more preference, especially when it comes to energy because they travel long distances in search of water. Food and sources of energy for lighting and cooking.

Moreover, the GCIP emphasized that the women’s rights should be considered and there should be equal participation in the clean-tech sector through an active gender mainstreaming approach. This shall be achieved through setting targets for the number of women in entrepreneurship. The intention is to have 40% women-led and 30% youth-led companies or teams. Again, the selection criteria will provide preferential approach for women.

She further stated that the GCIP Lesotho will provide opportunities and business development support for disruptive clean-tech innovations. It will also assist with startups for small and medium enterprises. It will also assist with helping women access world-renowned business experts, international networks, partners and investors. It will further provide mentorship programmes for professional and personal growth.

Wrapping up the event Silase said, “Beyond this meeting, our doors are always open towards achieving sustainable energy for all.”

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