A Light Bulb Turns on for Women’s Advancement

Speeches Shim

Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows discuss the impact of energy on development as part of the new Energy Institute
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows discuss the impact of energy on development as part of the new Energy Institute hosted at the University of California, Davis, in partnership with Power Africa and YALI. / Jennie Konsella-Norene, UC-Davis

When Fatima Oyiza Ademoh of Nigeria arrived in California in June to attend the Power Africa/Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Energy Institute, she expected the gender component of the trainings to offer the usual information on how energy access impacts women and men differently.

However, she was struck by a few things. Half of her class was made up of other African women working in the energy sector, and the number of issues that affect women were much larger than even she realized. Fatima says a light bulb turned on as she realized that gender gaps exist beyond the well-known dangers of rural cooking methods that cause severe health problems for women and girls.

"The session introduced me to a whole new dimension: the economic and technical aspects of gender issues in large- and small-scale energy projects,” Fatima said. “This is immensely useful for me to think about as I develop [my own] mini-grid projects in rural off-grid communities in Nigeria. It will help me develop a more gender-responsive business model as I scale up my business."

The Energy Institute, hosted at the University of California, Davis, was developed by Power Africa for energy sector professionals supported by the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Fatima is one of 25 recipients of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows apply a gender analysis tool as part of the new Energy Institute hosted at the U
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows at the Power Africa/YALI Energy Institute hosted at University of California, Davis. Right to left: Fatima Oyiza Ademoh, Seeng Mulwa and Beatrice Ngugi. / Jennie Konsella-Norene, UC-Davis

For six weeks, these fellows were exposed to many different aspects of energy in Africa, including lectures with UC professors, meetings with practitioners in Silicon Valley, and visits to Power Africa partner offices in the Bay Area.

At the kickoff event for the Institute, the fellows were challenged to transform their thinking about the relevance of gender throughout the energy industry as a whole. They discussed the limited number of female energy practitioners and decision makers. They discussed the prices of energy that fail to provide enough specialized support to women entrepreneurs. They discussed large-scale infrastructure projects that ignore potential safety hazards for women.

Throughout the six weeks they have learned innovative ways to reduce gender gaps while building energy connections. This includes everything from setting employment targets for female employees and providing interest-free loans to women-operated businesses.

Fatima is the project manager of an initiative to provide off-grid electricity in Nigeria, as well as clean water and biogas cooking fuel -- taking advantage of the agricultural waste generated in the Kuje area, the hub of Abuja’s farming activities. The project won the 2015 Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge through the United States African Development Foundation (USADF). 

Fatima Oyiza Ademoh / UC Davis Academic Technology Services
Fatima Oyiza Ademoh / UC Davis Academic Technology Services

In Nigeria, about 60 percent of the population is without access to grid electricity. Changing this could improve productivity and boost business ventures.

Fatima’s epiphany was shared by many of the fellows. One participant committed to increasing the numbers of female distributors in a social enterprise from five to 15 by next year. Another intended to increase seed capital support to women entrepreneurs connected to a solar mini grid project, and another participant saw the need to improve access to sanitation facilities and improve lighting and security measures at energy infrastructure construction sites.

A number of the fellows came away with ideas to encourage more women to enter the industry—by offering female-only solar installations and hiring more women technicians to operate power plants. It was also clear that raising the gender question during the Institute provided a welcoming environment for the female fellows, as the limited number of female workers throughout the industry worldwide has been shown to deter women from seeking energy careers.

In addition to these initial ideas, the fellows walked away with tools to continue considering the gender dimensions of energy as they move forward in their careers—starting with the technology and policy courses offered throughout the Energy Institute, applying these insights to their respective energy projects back home.

The training closed with a call to action for the fellows to make a difference on gender equality wherever their careers lead. And fellows like Fatima championing gender-responsive businesses could make a world of difference for Africa’s energy industry.