It is an unfortunate reality that women are vastly underrepresented in the energy sector on the African continent. It is therefore vital to support the efforts of African women in this sector by promoting discussions, empowering individuals and creating opportunities.
Women have a significant role to play in the power sector, from policy makers and executives of private sector partners, to utility managers and employees of power plants and distribution systems, to renewable energy entrepreneurs and customers of electricity services. Their contributions are broad and impactful. One of the challenges facing the African continent is to implement more programmes in order to reach a wider audience and to inspire ambition amongst our young female population to enter the energy sector.
The African energy sector currently fails to meet the needs or capitalise on the talents of the female population on the continent. Gender integration within the African energy sector will not only create immediate opportunities for women, but will also strengthen this sector.
Unemployment remains a serious issue for South Africa, but for women the problem is especially acute, with only a small percentage of females between the age of 18 and 65 in formal employment. In an employment plan presented to a recent G20 summit in Australia (November 2014), the South African government claimed that young black women make up 37.5% of unemployed South Africans aged between 18 and 34, and white men 31.5%.
Education and skills training are key to unlocking opportunities for all young people, but especially important for girls who are at greater risk of being left behind in a developing country like South Africa. The unemployment crisis in South Africa can be addressed by inspiring young females to enter the energy sector.
The continued success of sustainable economic development is reliant on the urgent need to harness the economic potential of women. It is estimated that by 2020, 870 million women worldwide who have been living or contributing at a subsistence level will enter the economic mainstream for the first time as producers, consumers, employees and entrepreneurs. The economic impact is expected to be staggering, with profound effects on global development as a whole.
When women are empowered to generate an income, accumulate assets and increase their economic security, they improve industrial capacity and spur economic growth by creating new jobs, as well as expanding the pool of human resources and talents available in the country.
Energy security and environmentally sustainable development are of key importance on the African continent. An estimated 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity and energy shortages negatively affect economic growth, health and education on the continent.
The South African Department of Energy hosted a number of successful workshops in the past to encourage women to get involved in the fast-growing energy sector. To name just a few - Women in Energy Business Summit 2016, Free State Business Opportunities in the Energy Sector Workshop for Women – February 2016 (Hosted by South African Females in Energy Efficiency SAFEE) and WOESA (Women in Oil and Energy South Africa) Workshops (Various). South African Government further supports women through its empowering legislation and policies that redress past inequalities where women bore the brunt of oppression of race, class and gender.
It is becoming increasingly clear that women are, and will continue to be, powerful drivers of development. When women are empowered to generate an income, accumulate assets and increase their economic security, they improve industrial capacity and spur economic growth by creating new jobs, as well as expanding the pool of human resources and talents available in the country. It is therefore vital that South Africa prioritises the creation of opportunities for women, especially in the energy sector.