On 8 March, International Women's Day was celebrated and, although it seems far away on this date and the concern of the pandemic now occupies our minds, we cannot fail to remember other important causes and take this opportunity to think, plan and to structure what is necessary to improve gender issues in energy and so that, when all this passes and the moment comes, we can act in a concerted and objective way.
In order to think about the condition of women in the energy field at CPLP, we asked African women who work in the energy field to give us their vision.
Here we leave you with the contribution of different experiences from Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, to which are added the contribution of Mozambique reported in the editorial We thank and commend these women that we have had the privilege to meet, to whom many more are added and to whom we hope to be able to give voice in another opportunity.
Maria da Conceição Mendes Raposo is the Chairman of the Board of Directors at General Regulatory Authority (AGER) of São Tomé and Principe.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing the energy sector in São Tomé e Príncipe?
“One of the most critical challenges for the development in the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is access to energy.” Source: Energy Access Diagnostic Report Based on a Multilevel Categorization, ESMAP - World Bank.
Energy has a huge impact on human development. Government policies aim to make all energy sources (fossil fuels, biomass and electricity) more accessible and to take into consideration the different needs taking into account gender issues.
In São Tomé and Príncipe, the main source of energy used by households is kerosene (also called petroleum) occupying 53% share, 43.5% uses biomass and 1.2% of households use LPG (Energy Access Diagnostic Report Based on a Multilevel Categorization, ESMAP - World Bank, 2019).
Considering the electricity sector as a crucial sector for the economic and social development of São Tomé and Príncipe, the challenge is to make it self-sustainable and more accessible, always taking into consideration the weak purchasing power of the citizens and especially women who are mostly the heads of household.
In 2014, 69% of the population had access to electricity. After 2 years, there was a decline to 65%, as a result of the country's difficulty in keeping up with the needs of the population that is growing rapidly, and also due to the increase in production, as well as in the maintenance of infrastructure (World Bank, 2018).
Electricity production (thermal), 99.9% of which is state-owned, has resulted in a large indebtedness of the State of São Tomé and Príncipe. However, the Government has the sector as a priority and every effort is dedicated, together with partners, to do everything possible to find ways to penetrate a large percentage of energy from renewable sources already being prepared to 2021. There are independent producers in the sector, interested in this type of business, and with very advanced proposals.
Some of these companies already have signed contracts, all in an effort that the Government has been making, in order to mitigate the lack of this good and to provide a better distribution (electricity) to the population.
What do you consider to be the main achievements in recent years within the energy sector in São Tomé e Príncipe?
This sector has benefited from financing both in the elaboration and production of legal instruments such as laws, regulations, installation and infrastructure innovation, through the support of several partners, in particular the World Bank, AfDB, IMF and UNDP.
This contributes greatly to the increase in the sector's regulatory and technical collection and consequently the country's economic growth.
What has been your experience as a woman in the energy field?
Being a sector in the discovery phase, in the area of Regulation, of which it is inserted, it has been a very gratifying challenge, in a way that this discovery as the days passes by various interlocutors, has increased the curiosity of how good it is to be with the opposite sex in the perspective that together we are stronger.
The involvement in different sectors of electricity as a way of creating conditions for the regulation of the sector and making it more attractive in general terms for consumers in the first place, and profitable for the country makes it very clear how beneficial it is to work in the area.
In summary, to say that the experience has been phenomenal despite constraints that are often conjunctural, as is natural. However, the goal is to win with hard work, selflessness, courage and, above all, believe.
What is the importance of women in the energy sector in São Tomé and Príncipe?
Energy is used in almost all tasks performed by all of us and especially by women. Therefore, their participation and contribution in the development of this sector is very important.
Although they are still the minority in this sector, both in a leadership position and as professionals in the technical area, over time, cultural, social and economic changes and mainly with the gender equality policy, women have been making their presence felt and carrying out tasks before performed exclusively by men.
However, the importance of women in the energy sector in São Tomé and Príncipe can be verified with their presence in legible places such as the institution that regulates the sector in the country, where there are two (2) relevant women, in the petroleum agency (ANP), as well as in the coordination of the project for the rehabilitation of the Contador Hydroelectric Plant financed by the World Bank; as a machine operator in the public electricity and water company (EMAE); in maintenance activities of power plant generators; head of water quality department and head of the general services.
What is the impact of energy on women in São Tomé and Príncipe?
Energy has several impacts and importance in the daily life of the women, with relevance in the process of self-sustainability.
This importance starts with the lighting of our houses and going through what it provides quality of life, making it more practical with almost all domestic tasks and equipment maintenance. The use of energy and mainly renewable energy are essential factors so that women can actually have a healthier and more independent life.
This practicality comes with the use of electrical appliances that have emerged, providing time for other tasks, such as giving more attention to their family or investing in professional life, for example.
Electricity allows refrigeration and food preservation, increases the production of goods and services, and with the empowerment of women and entrepreneurship, it opened up the product transformation market, which created many jobs and took many women out of unemployment and misery. It is also needed to run leisure and entertainment equipment, such as the computer, the television, the radio, the mobile phone, as these devices brings us information and keep us in contact with other people and the world.
What, in your opinion, is still missing for greater integration of women in the sector?
There is a lot to say about the time factor. Nothing changes overnight. It takes time for policies, laws and programs to be absorbed by everyone that contributes to the sector. Women need this time to change their mentality, where for some there are certain professional activities for men only. In recent years, legal norms (some of which lack regulation), policies and programs, the creation of an institution to protect women and improve their condition have been implemented, but it is time for women to be increasingly active in promoting and driving the implementation of these programs in order to have the desired impact. Our empowerment depends exclusively on our will, our courage, our availability, our flexibility, to believe more in ourselves, ... it depends only on women!
What advice would you give to women who intend on entering this area?
There are many Santomean girls already trained in the area, especially in the field of renewable energies. I advise them to gather great courage and perform with strength their chosen and preferred training area and show that they are capable. Difficulties will all pass, but the important thing is to insist and persist, and the key word is to never give up!
Read also the interview with Ana Monteiro here.