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.
Ana Monteiro is UNIDO’s Sustainable Energy Program Coordinator in Cabo Verde, prior to which she headed the Environmental, Social and Administration department at Cabeólica, S.A., the first Public Private Partnership to deliver commercial scale wind power in sub-Saharan Africa. She has roughly 12 years’ experience in environment and energy, engaging in various projects relating to sustainable off-grid electrification projects and climate change initiatives. Ana holds a BSc in Environmental Science and Engineering from the University of Plymouth, UK and an MA in Environmental Science and Policy from Clark University, USA.
Field of work:
Promotion of renewable energy for water management: Renewable Energy; Energy Efficiency; Production and Management of water for agriculture and domestic use, particularly in the off-grid sector.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing the energy sector in Cabo Verde?
Given the Government’s long held ambition of evolving towards decarbonization of the energy sector, initiating with the electricity sector, whilst simultaneously lowering the cost to end-consumers, the main challenge continues to lie in the creation of an integrated structure that will allow maximization of stable renewable energy production and minimization of losses. Electricity production in Cabo Verde continues to be highly dependent on fossil fuel-based production, which has long been determined to be unsustainable and unaligned with the above-mentioned ambitions, and with each passing year a decrease in grid-based renewable energy penetration is registered due to sustainable projects not evolving with demand.
The Government seeks to accomplish this through implementation of various plans with the intent of stimulating continual investment in diversified renewable energy projects as well as in technical solutions to manage increases of different types of intermittent energy in small dispersed grids, and also investments in instruments, processes, and structures to foster a comprehensive framework that will support these projects. These include the right mix of non-burdensome incentives to incentivize private sector leadership in investments in viable on and off grid projects that financially benefit the end-consumer, whilst also guaranteeing quality. The initiatives are envisioned to go hand in hand with efforts to stimulate energy efficiency practices in production and consumption as well as the operationalization of a series of intersectoral nexuses to effectively reap the social and economic benefits of such a shift. It is also necessary to transform the renewable energy and energy efficiency service sector into one that generates more employment whilst adequately providing needed service. Finally, to successfully accomplish these goals, a surge of continuous capacity building at different levels must accompany all efforts.
Whilst it is very exciting to see the Government, in collaboration with its development partners, concurrently identifying and targeting all of these aspects, it is an immense challenge to accomplish this integrated plan that has the objective of leading the country towards successfully untethering from the conventional form of dealing with energy issues.
What do you consider to be the main achievements in recent years within the energy sector in Cabo Verde?
Renewable energy currently contributes roughly 20% of the electricity grid supply, which is in itself a great feat for the sector and for the country considering the overall goal of decarbonization. The current situation has been achieved with the implementation of various renewable energy projects, amongst them the Cabeólica project - pioneering in both the country and in the region due to its size and innovative Public Private Partnership (PPP) structure. These projects have not only built up existing capacity and demonstrated the feasibility of renewable energy in the country, including integration of large scale projects in small grids, but have also served to provide experience in (i) operationalizing and integrating intermittent energy within the grids; (ii) mobilizing PPP models, leading the way for more innovative and tailored financing and risk mitigation mechanisms, and (iii) conducting the necessary restructuring of the regulatory framework.
Additionally, the country has developed a master plan, as well as various instruments, to direct its energy efficiency and sustainable energy efforts in an integrated and holistic manner.
Furthermore, with the aid of development partners, the country has established a Center for Renewable Energy and Industrial Maintenance which is an essential partner in the capacitation of the sector and other relevant stakeholders.
Overall, the sector has conducted impressive work to organize itself in order to attempt to achieve a very challenging goal.
What has been your experience as a woman in the energy field?
My experience as a woman working within the industry has been very positive. I have been fortunate throughout my career, which has always been associated with energy and its connection with the environment, to work with and be mentored and supported by experienced and cultured people that are indifferent to my gender and who have encouraged me to explore great opportunities. This has resulted in a greatly satisfying personal journey.
What is the importance of women in the energy sector in Cabo Verde?
Just as in the case of men, women’s everyday lives highly depend on the energy industry. Therefore, it is a paradox that women are not more equally represented in a sector that deeply impacts their lives, leaving a range of opinions and ideas unheard.
From the sector’s perspective, it is evident that as the country experiences growth in energy demand, particularly with its plan to create diversification in energy sources, there will be the need for more labor and skill sets within the different branches of the sector. There is no reason for these new posts to be filled in a highly disproportionate manner by representatives of just one gender, and presents a prospect for women to also reap the benefits of these opportunities in a more balanced arrangement. It is in the interest of all that the workforce within the sector be as inclusive and diversified as possible as this can only foment innovation and create a system that fully serves and benefits all.
What is the impact of energy on women in Cabo Verde?
As mentioned above, energy is crucial for nearly all aspects of the daily lives of both genders, including such things as transportation, preparation and maintenance of food, powering homes and businesses, pumping or producing water for agriculture and domestic use, etc. Therefore, just as in the case of men, access to energy plays a vital role in the empowerment of women, facilitating key growth aspects such as education, income and mobility. Furthermore, in Cabo Verde, as in other parts of the world, a far larger percentage of mono-parenting is conducted by women, thus intensifying the significance of having access to quality and affordable energy in their daily lives. Additionally, as in other parts of the world, in Cabo Verde domestic tasks are generally seen as the women’s responsibility, and access to energy, particularly in the form of electricity, can alleviate the burden of these responsibilities and create time for more productive, formal engagement in the local economy.
What, in your opinion, is still missing for greater integration of women in the sector?
I have seen some interesting changes in the country’s energy sector, becoming more modern and more interactive with other sectors. I think this, and the work being conducted around sustainable energy solutions (which seems to be more inclusive of women than the fossil fuel industry), has been very positive in terms of inducing greater interaction by women. For example, I have recently seen some women transition to the energy sector, and have come in contact with more female recent graduates of energy-related training programs, as well as interns in associated businesses. Nonetheless, the gap in gender equity within the sector continues to be extensive, and of course not just in Cabo Verde. Notwithstanding various other reasons for this, in my opinion, I believe that this is primarily a phenomenon resulting from certain social norms that divide traditional roles by gender, discouraging women from pursuing careers in energy and redirecting their interests to other fields more traditionally associated with women. In this case, a more grassroot approach needs to be engineered to gain the interest of women in all opportunities presented by the sector, from the technical to the managerial roles. Hopefully, emerging changes in the sector can act as a catalyst.
What advice would you give to women who intend on entering this area?
I would encourage them to disregard any doubts they might have regarding their capacities and to fully engage in the field, because their contribution is important to the economic development of the country.
Read also the interview with Maria Conceição Mendes here.