The importance of electricity to women living in sub-Saharan Africa cannot be overemphasized. Approximately two thirds of the people in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to power. This limitation affects the different facets of life in Sub-Saharan Africa; education, health, business, but on a day to day level, the shear time spent on household chores such as fetching water, collecting firewood, walking to charge mobile phones are made more difficult by the lack of access to power. Since many of these tasks are carried out by women, their access to power has numerous impacts on the empowerment of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Electrical power is essential in the day to day activities of women around the world, and the women in sub-Saharan Africa are no different. Below is a list of areas in which access to electrical power can impact the lives of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Income Generation
Access to electrical power will result in an increase in income generated by women in sub-Saharan Africa. The absence of electrical power limits activities that require the use of electricity to render services, like running a hair salon. The international development community has constantly emphasized the importance of affordable and accessible energy on economic growth. There have been many initiatives to help ensure electrical power is made more accessible to women in sub-Saharan Africa. Such interventions include the Power Africa initiative launched by the former United States president Barack Obama.
- Economic Productivity
Affordable and accessible electrical power creates a suitable environment that enhances the economic productivity of women in sub-Saharan Africa. Unlimited access to power means that women can work more flexibly, either work during the day or at night. This allows a certain degree of flexibility between different economic activities. With no access to power, women are strictly restricted to working during the day. Thus, reducing the amount of income that can be earned by women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The availability of electrical power in hospitals and health clinics is one of the crucial factors that contribute to the provision of quality healthcare services to women in sub-Saharan Africa. Accessible electrical power will enable healthcare personnel to provide pregnant women with quality healthcare services at night aswel as during daylight hours. Some of the complications associated with childbirth are associated with limited electrical power, like safe delivery or suturing by candle light or kerosene lamps. Safer childbirths are guaranteed if there is available electrical power.
- Life Expectancy
The life expectancy of women in sub-Saharan Africa is negatively impacted by the unavailability of electrical power. Most often, these women spend most of their time doing household chores manually, due to limited or no access to electrical power. Some of these household chores include: chopping of firewood, fetching of water from the well, stream or river, amongst others. Some women might have to carry out small farming tasks such as grinding, sowing seeds, and milling manually, which could be done with electric powered machines. This heavy manual labour of chores day in day out impairs the quality of life of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Electricity is important in schools to power computers and create a suitable learning environment for female and male students alike. Poor accessibility to electrical power is a major challenge to the proper education of women in sub-Saharan Africa. Its unavailability results in the decrease in opportunities for thorough learning and studying by women. Also with access to electricity, by solar powered lamps, students are able to do independent study at home and, possibly even help improve the literacy of parents.
- Cooking Methods
Access to electricity will enable women to enjoy a cleaner and more hygienic method of cooking. Due to limited access to electrical power, women in sub-Saharan Africa are forced to opt for the use of firewood in cooking. This method of cooking is dangerous to the respiratory health of the woman and her family. The burning of firewood emits soot, smoke, and other dangerous chemicals that may gradually impair the normal functioning of the respiratory system. This is an almost inevitable phenomenon for women that cook indoors using firewood. Asides the risk associated with respiratory health, there is also the danger of house fire in the home. Furthermore, it encourages deforestation of trees, with detrimental consequences to the environment.
- Social Activity
Availability of electrical power increases the social activity of women in sub-Saharan Africa. With the advent of technology, many women have mobile phones through which they communicate with family and friends, and keep up with happenings around the world or even advertise their businesses through social media. Limited access to electricity means these women have to make the trek to neighbouring villages, to charge their phone at exorbitant prices or they stay cut off from the world. (It has been documented that a mobile phone charge in SSA equates to 400x what it costs the average American)
- Food Preservation
Accessibility to electrical power enables households to slowly climb the energy ladder, building up to Solar Home Systems; with enough renewable energy available to power a small TV and refrigerator aswel as providing light and charging for appliances and mobile phones.
In sub-Saharan Africa, limited access to electrical power in hospitals and healthcare clinics results in the improper storage of drugs and vaccines that are sensitive to temperature change. The efficacy of vaccines and certain drugs depends on their proper refrigerated storage, as stipulated by the manufacturer. The improper storage of vaccines affects efficacy, thereby putting children at risk of contracting the diseases for which they were supposedly vaccinated. A sick child adds a heavy burden to the mother, in terms of restricting opportunities for work and income generation.
Availability of electricity also has a role to play in security. With access to electric power, streets and paths will be well lit, and women can afford to run their businesses at night without the fear of being molested or robbed. However, lack of electric power means most roads and streets get dark once the sun goes down, the fear of walking in dark places means that businesses close up before nightfall.
There is therefore no doubt, that the availability of affordable and accessible electrical power in sub-Saharan Africa has a tremendous positive impact on the life of women boosting their financial independence, reduce the burden of time spent on household duties and increasing access to diverse socio-economic opportunities.
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