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Q&A with Yvonne Murindiwa

How ‘Breaking the Barriers’ will support women and sustainable energy

Meet Breaking the Barriers Programme Manager Yvonne Murindiwa.

Launched this May in Lilongwe, Breaking the Barriers is a four country programme implemented in Malawi, Ethiopia, Honduras and Burkina Faso.

The programme looks to increase rural women’s access to and role in the sustainable energy sector, promote gender equality, and strengthen women’s social status.

Here we speak with Yvonne about her hopes for the programme, the key challenges and how the project empowers women.

Breaking the Barriers Programme Manager Yvonne Murindiwa

Breaking the Barriers Programme Manager Yvonne Murindiwa

Photo: Christian Aid

What are your biggest hopes for this programme in Malawi?

My hopes are that this European Union funded programme will be really innovative and promote women entrepreneurship in the sustainable energy sector through establishing Women-Led Sustainable Energy Enterprises (WLSEEs).

We will work with the WLSEEs to provide financial support and training, so they can engage in small-scale food processing businesses in the rice, fish, fruits and vegetable value chains using sustainable energy technologies.

I really want to witness the economic empowerment and improved quality of life for women in sustainable energy related enterprises.

Yvonne Murindiwa

I hope to see independent and confident business women that will work hard to sustain profitable enterprises and become mentors for others in their communities, to also engage in entrepreneurship to transform their lives.

The WSLEEs will build on successful models of women’s savings and loans schemes

What are some of the key challenges that Breaking the Barrier’s faces?

Changing the mindset of women will be one of the key challenges for Breaking the Barriers.

Women will need to think commercially, rather than sticking to working through small enterprises that they are used to.

Women entrepreneurs often lack confidence, assertiveness, and the necessary skills when dealing with suppliers, buyers, banks and government institutions. They have limited market knowledge and selling skills.

The women engaged in small scale food processing using sustainable energy technologies may face challenges in producing quality products and getting certification from the Malawi Bureau of standards.

This will be important for them, as it means they can access more formalised markets, such as large supermarkets in urban areas.

Yvonne Murindiwa

There are also societal and institutional barriers that this programme will work to address, for example, large amounts of taxes levied on solar energy technologies and components as well as women’s inability to access finance.

We also fear unintended adverse effects of the project towards women due to gender relations.

There could be very real resistance from men and other members of community towards this project.

It will be really important for us to work closely with the communities, as well as engaging with men to some extent to support women in their business, for the general well-being of their families and communities.

How have women previously been shut out of the sustainable energy sector in Malawi?

Sustainable energy is a relatively new concept for many communities in Malawi, in a country where access to modern energy services is quite limited.

The main sources of energy come from biomass (wood, charcoal, and other organic matter).

Less than 1% of the rural population, where 80% of the population resides, have access to electricity.

Instead, 93% of energy comes from biomass (mainly firewood and charcoal), which is mainly consumed by households. Just 0.2% of energy is from renewable sources to meet local demands (National Energy Policy for Malawi, January 2003).

Women in particular bear the brunt of energy poverty as they are responsible for cooking in the home and face enormous challenges to source firewood.

Coupled with current rates of deforestation, women are increasingly travelling longer distances to source it.

Deforestation and cutting down trees for charcoal is a big problem in Malawi, exacerbating erratic rainfall related to climate change. A very small percentage of the country is connected to electricity and charcoal is an important source of energy.

Deforestation and cutting down trees for charcoal is a big problem in Malawi, exacerbating erratic rainfall related to climate change. A very small percentage of the country is connected to electricity and charcoal is an important source of energy.

Photo: Christian Aid

Women face particular constraints such as lack of assets and income, limited access to finance and credit, and lower levels of education that further limits their economic productivity, as well as access to modern energy services including engaging in the sustainable energy sector.

Promotion of the sustainable energy sector by private sector and others has also faced challenges due to taxes imposed by the state on renewable energy technology components.

These technologies are therefore not widely promoted, or affordable, for much of the population, including women.

What is the relationship between Breaking the Barriers and The Big Shift?

The Big Shift campaign calls for a shift in energy investment from fossil fuels to renewable energy, whilst promoting access to energy for all.

Breaking the Barriers is a practical example of the call for this shift.

The project will work to enhance awareness of sustainable energy and women’s role in sustainable energy sector.

Women’s enterprises will use renewable energy technologies in the food processing businesses rather than relying on traditional energy sources, such as those that rely on biomass or fossil fuels and are not sustainable in the current context of climate change.

We aim to support increased access to energy in rural communities in the four countries where we are working.

Find out more about Breaking the Barriers

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This content was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Christian Aid and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.