At the Mo Ibrahim Governance weekend, held over the weekend of the 7-8th of April in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, The Elders and The B Team co-convened a roundtable to discuss challenges and solutions for improving the role of women in the Africa’s transition to a green economy.
The event explored the obstacles and potential solutions for how to increase the participation of women in both the public and private spheres of the energy sector in Africa through a wide-ranging discussion. The roundtable brought together representatives from government, civil society, finance, the energy sector and international organistions to explore the nexus between energy, development and climate change.
Speakers included Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO, The B Team, Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and Leader, The B Team, the Minister of Sanitation and Environmental Health, Côte d’Ivoire, Anne-Désirée Ouloto, and Monica Maduekwe, Program Officer, ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
Whilst Africa has not been a major historical contributor of green house gases, the impact of climate change has been felt keenly across the continent. Graça Machel spoke movingly of the impact of Cyclone Idai on Mozambique and the increasing vulnerability of countries like hers to climate change—as well as the need to take concrete action at all levels to help women become more resilient whether through climate smart agriculture or clean cookstoves. Aicha Bah Diallo, the former Minister of Education for Guinea, further called for the need to focus on small scale solutions to impact the daily lives and experiences of women in Africa.
The importance of energy to the future of Africa was highlighted by Malado Kaba, the former Finance Minister of Guinea who pointed out that Africa will need to invest $15 trillion in infrastructure and half of that will need to be in energy. Without a focus on both ensuring that this investment is green and gender inclusive, Africa risks locking itself into a development path that repeats the mistakes of the global North and prevents half its population from reaching its full potential.
Another emerging theme of the discussions was the need to support women entrepreneurs in this space across Africa. Whilst Africa has an impressive culture of female entrepreneurship, both in the energy sector and more broadly, female entrepreneurs often struggle to survive long term due to lack of support. This can take the form of lack of financing, informal networks, and access to talent. What’s more, women on the continent rarely reach positions of power, whether it’s in the business sphere or within politics. Marcia Ashong, Co-Founder of The Boardroom Africa, pointed out that women only make up 16% of the boardrooms of Africa and in her home country of Ghana, only 4 of out of 120 ministers in a country of 28 million are women.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of the discussion was the willingness of participants to make commitments on changing the status quo. Whilst acknowledging the challenges, all agreed that the future of both the planet and Africa’s development meant that the issue of further engaging women in the energy sector could not be ignored. To that end everyone in the room offered to use their platforms to further advance the issue whether it was to support women entrepreneurs in the energy sector, commit to supporting women involved in climate-smart agribusiness, to convene further discussions on how to boost women’s participation in the sector or to look at ways to change policy to level the playing field for women in the emerging green economy.
The threat of the impacts of climate change are far too urgent and devastating to ignore and what emerged from this roundtable was that the women of Africa, despite the challenges they face, are on the front line of crafting a new and sustainable path for the continent.