Workshop on Women Entrepreneurs and Sustainable Energy in Africa Kicks off in Gabon

Workshop participants of the first day
Workshop participants of the first day

A workshop bringing together more than 100 women energy entrepreneurs and experts in energy policy, financing and capacity building, opened yesterday in Libreville, Gabon. The two-day workshop titled Women Entrepreneurs and Sustainable Energy in Africa brings to light the role that women can play across the energy value chain to expand economic opportunities and alleviate energy poverty. UNU-GEST joined forces with UN Environment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, UN Women and Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in organizing the event alongside the Sixteenth Session of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN 16).

Opened by Ms. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, the UN Environment Director and Regional Representative for Africa, the workshop aims to identify the main challenges that hinder establishment, growth, and development of women’s entrepreneurship. Furthermore, it aims to bring up the gender equality concerns that need to be included in the action agenda on gender and sustainable energy, and propose innovative policy instruments, financing models and technological expertise for addressing the identified challenges. In her opening speech, Juliette reiterated that clean and reliable energy is a critical element of development for Africa, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.

Ms. Haddijatou Jallow, the Chair of the Africa Women Ministers and Leaders Environment, pointed out that women need to be included at all levels of decision-making to make the change happen at community, local, national and global levels. Policies need to be gender-sensitive, and actions to address gender equality concerns that can be incorporated in the AMCEN outcome document will be the main outcome of this workshop. She also stressed the importance of this gathering as an excellent platform for promoting the SDGs 5 and 7, and the AU Agenda 2063. “We must be ready to take bold decisions that will result in ambitious proposals, and the decisions we take are critical for women empowerment and their wellbeing in the sustainable and renewable energy sector”, argued Ms. Haddijatou Jallow.

Ms. Engilbertsdóttir from the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs in her speech notified the participants that gender and energy are the two main themes of Iceland’s international cooperation and that lessons can be learned from Iceland on how local farmers spearheaded the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources. On the same note, Mr. John Bideri of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) pointed out that we need to invest in clean energy and that women will play a critical role in promoting investments in this area and will be the main benefactors from the access to climate finance. Mr. Bideri also stressed the need for better understanding of the energy demand in Africa and the ways of making clean energy more accessible and affordable to everyone. He concluded that more investment in women and setting clear targets to work towards was essential.

The workshop proceeded in three plenary sessions in which discussions focused on three main areas:

(i)   environmentally sustainable and gender responsive energy policies;

(ii)  access to finance and market for women energy entrepreneurs across the value chain;

(iii) capacity building and skills on technical and business aspects for entrepreneurs.

From the discussions on the first day, it emerged that:

(i)   women face risks entering the market as entrepreneurs where they are less likely to possess collateral in order to secure access to loans;

(ii)  developing targeted funding mechanisms is crucial for women entrepreneurs;

(iii) policy development and training mechanisms should be developed at various levels given that women entrepreneurs are not a homogeneous group.

At the end of the first day, the participants recommended a shift from policy discourse to implementation and emphasized that access to energy should be a universal right and not a political agenda. They also pointed to the need for harmonized policies to promote decentralized energy solutions and investments. Finally, they called for empowerment of women and girls through education and capacity building.

The second day started with a presentation by our Head of Research Erla Hlín Hjálmarsdóttir on the work of UNU-GEST and three breakout sessions on the main focus areas of the workshop: policy, access to finance and markets, and capacity building. More updates will follow after the workshop is concluded.