The ever-expanding field of solar energy has a tremendous impact on every market and country it reaches. The vast environmental impact, with increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, saves a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), preventing dangerous air pollution.
The economic impact is also large and familiar, with solar energy providing cheap solutions to both governments across the world, as well as to millions of end-users.
Environmental and economic implications are two major examples of how solar energy affects human life, with the sector already changing the lives of millions and is expected to reach hundreds of millions more in the next decade.
As every country and demographic enjoy different benefits of solar, the women of Africa might feel these changes on a deeper level, as the sector revolutionizes their lives and status across the continent.
Changing work paradigms
Although millions of people already enjoy electricity through solar energy solutions across Africa, the solar sector is still in its infancy. As a new field, solar also brings with it real potential for changing the norms and previous conventions, first and foremost - in the labor market.
Until recently, most jobs in Africa were for men only, while most of the women remained at home, maintaining the house and raising the children. The solar field itself brings the potential for change: when a whole market is built from scratch and tens of thousands of new jobs are added by global companies, it is crucial to make these jobs available for all genders.
This is the case with Ignite Power, with a constantly increasing share of company employees being women, from field agents, through technical positions to management. With the sector expected to grow significantly in the near future and create hundreds of thousands of jobs across Africa, leading companies, entrepreneurs and managers must make sure that among the new positions, a significant percentage will be devoted to female workers.
Such a move will have both short and long-term effects, as millions of children will be educated by both men and women who work in a variety of roles and jobs, bringing a significant impact to family life and the community. Hopefully, the next generation will grow into a reality in which women are equal in the labor market, society, and family.
Less time at home, more time for work and education
In addition to the labor market, solar energy is also expected to affect the lives of many more women who will not necessarily work in the developing sector. Solar energy solutions are expected to provide electricity to tens of millions of homes across the continent for the first time ever, and according to many studies and assessments, will affect, among other things, the status of women in society.
The reason for this is simple: In many communities across the continent, women are responsible for household tasks, from cooking to washing and bringing water from the nearest water source (which may be a few kilometers away). Today, with no electricity, these tasks take most of the woman’s and girl’s day, as they walk large distances to bring water, wash the clothes and dishes by hand, and slow cook over open fires.
This reality can be changed. For these women and girls, safe and steady electricity means more than the ability to light the house after dark: it means a significant reduction in working hours on various household chores. Although not immediately, in the near future more and more electrical devices are expected to reach distant communities in Africa. Water pumps, washing machines, dishwashers, and electric ovens will greatly reduce the burden. Then, millions of women will be able to live beyond the framework of their home and family. They could work, learn and develop various hobbies. Millions of girls who currently stay at home to help their mothers would be able to go to school and get a proper education.
There is obviously so much to be done in order to reach SDG #5: Gender equality, and solar energy has the power to initiate some crucial processes for this purpose. All the above could drastically empower the women of Africa and take gender equality one step closer. It is our responsibility and duty to support it in any way we can.
The writer is the founder of Ignite Power, a solar power firm in Rwanda