Supporting women entrepreneurs in the energy field: a bridging answer to gender, employment and access to energy issues in emerging economies

Women play a key role regarding both local development and energy management in emerging economies[1]. They are very active entrepreneurs: they are estimated to own 1/3 of the enterprises of Africa[2] and more than half of the enterprises in some countries like Ivory Coast (61,9%)[3]. However, these enterprises are often associated with higher risks and precarity as women lack the tools, which could enable them to grow[4]. In addition to this, they  are often the primary managers of energy in communities in emerging economies. They are the ones in charge of providing energy sources for the households. However, they are not represented as economical actors in energy-related fields in developing countries[5]. Women are also the first exposed to the sanitary risks associated with pollutant sources of energy such as kerosene.

Hindrances preventing women to launch a career in the energy sector

  • Livelihood and cultural gender schemes: Women tend to become mother early which can prevent them from developing a formal activity or continuing school. There are also often excluded from the labor market, where opportunities in rural areas can be rare and difficult to access for them because historically reserved to men;
  • Lack of training and hard skills: suffering from discrimination on the ground of their gender regarding access to training, they usually stop school earlier than boys and they rarely undertake technical training for professions which are considered “manly”, such as electrician;
  • Lack of soft skills: due to their lack of training and to gender norms, women often do not have the skills needed to develop a business (e.g. communication and public speaking, interrelation skills for commercial negotiations, stress management, leadership…);
  • Access to labor market and funding: often excluded from conventional labor markets and funding schemes, they are prevented to launch their own activity in the formal sector.

Provided with the right skills and tools, women entrepreneurs in energy can drive economic & social development and foster tailored solutions for access to energy.
Energy access should be an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to secure an income, decent employment and enhance their social status by enabling them to drive the sustainable development of their communities[6].
Success stories from inclusive programs supporting women in their path to entrepreneurship through training, mentoring and access to microfinance have shown that there is a great potential for development[7]. This success is explained by the personal and familial follow-up offered to the women including literacy and soft skills development and support regarding childcare. These schemes help women overcome the gendered based barriers that they face.

Supporting women entrepreneurs to work at all stages of the energy value chain
However, most of the programs targeting women entrepreneurs in energy are focused on non-technical activities (like the resale of solar products). At the Access to Energy Program of Schneider Electric, we believe that women should also be offered the opportunity to access careers requiring hard-skills to be present at all the stages of the energy value chain.
Thus, we support local organizations specialized in women empowerment and skills development, critical actors for change, they create inclusive ecosystems offering training, mentoring and funding to enable women to become entrepreneurs. We also provide our other local partners with incentives to become more gender aware by promoting good practices and fostering bottom-up dynamics for gender equality. An example that illustrates Schneider Electric contribution:

Brazil – Entrepreneurship program with a gender lens in partnership with educational institutions and NGOs
Men and women are trained together in basics electricity and system photovoltaic operation and provided with the adequate tools to launch their own activity, information on the regulatory environment, and starter kits in sales, services and communication. It enables them to structure their business and obtain their first commands. Vector of social progress, this program creates the conditions for mutual understanding and recognition. When working together with women, men tend to abandon their potential prejudice against women workers in energy. In the meantime, women are given the proof that they are totally capable to work as electricians and provided with the skills and tools that they need to do so.
Feedbacks show that trained women perform very well as electricians. However, a lot remains to be done regarding social acceptability for women in energy as they are not always taken seriously and they sometimes face insecurity when operating in some countries. The Access to Energy Program wishes to go forward on this matter and to play a double role of economic empowerment and advocacy for gender equality.

[1] ILO, 2014
[2] AFDB, Report on Gender Parity, 2012
[3] AFDB,2012
[4] UN Women and UNIDO, Sustainable Energy for All, The Gender Dimension, 2013
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid

Diane Le Goff is Project Manager – Access to Energy Training and Entrepreneurs at Schneider Electric.