Need To Bridge Electricity Gaps For Rural Women, Girls

June 15, 2023

By Clement Chisom John

Over 90 million Nigerians, approximately 45 per cent of the population, lack access to electricity in their homes and communities, which has severe implications. Without electricity, people face numerous challenges, including limited access to vital information, inadequate healthcare and education services, agricultural wastages, restricted communication, increased insecurity, decreased productivity, rising unemployment, and migration to areas with better electricity access.

Electricity plays a vital role in enabling knowledge and economic empowerment through the timely flow of information, powering various communication and information channels.

Despite Nigeria’s generation capacity of approximately 13,000MW, challenges in the transmission networks have resulted in the delivery of less than 5,000MW to homes and industries. Efforts to strengthen the national electricity grid have not effectively reduced grid collapse or improved the frequency of electricity supply.

The electricity distribution companies (DISCOS) have shown little or no effort in expanding electricity distribution, leaving over 45 per cent of Nigerians without access to grid electricity. However, the signing of the Fifth Alteration Bill No.33 – the Devolution of Power (National Grid System) by former President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2023 has allowed states to generate, transmit, and distribute electricity in underserved and unserved areas within their jurisdictions. This development breaks the monopoly of DISCOs and empowers citizens to hold their state governments accountable for providing electricity.

The state and national governments have a responsibility to provide affordable, reliable electricity, especially for women and youth. Women, particularly those in rural areas, are most affected by the lack of electricity in Nigeria. Limited access to electricity hampers women’s economic participation by inhibiting their ability to engage in income-generating activities and entrepreneurship. The World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys reveal that unreliable electricity supply is a significant constraint for Nigerian businesses, particularly micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in which women entrepreneurs are actively involved. Nigerian women account for 41 per cent of ownership of micro-businesses in Nigeria, with at least 23 million female entrepreneurs.

Inadequate electricity supply in schools negatively impacts the education and empowerment of women and girls in Nigeria. UNICEF reports that unreliable electricity is a contributing factor to over 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school. The Nigerian Education Data Survey 2015 reveals that 56 per cent of schools lack electricity, resulting in poor lighting, and limited access to digital resources; inadequate sanitary and water provisions, and heightened insecurity. These issues disproportionately affect girls’ education and limit women’s access to information, hindering their educational opportunities, and personal career/professional development.

Currently, only 6,000 of the over 30,000 Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) in Nigeria (that is less than 20 per cent of PHCs) is functional. Over 80 per cent of poorly functional PHCs are located in densely populated communities in semi-urban and far remote villages; away from the daily eyes of the government. A survey conducted in Abuja revealed that most PHCs are forced to shut down at night due to a lack of illumination, relying on torchlights or kerosene lanterns for emergencies. It also affects drugs and vaccine storage, compromising immunisation coverage and quality, particularly in hot weather.

The absence of reliable electricity limits access to safe water supply, affecting the working conditions of health workers, who are predominantly women. The insufficient energy access not only hampers healthcare delivery but also contributes to Nigeria having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

In the words of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (Retd) at the opening ceremony of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) 2nd National Health Summit at the International Conference Centre, Abuja on November 5, 2019, “Is there any reason why a public health institution in 21st Century Nigeria should be utterly dependent on the National Grid for Power Supply when there are so many alternative power supplies?”

The energy deficits expose women to indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization states that in Nigeria, more than 98,000 deaths annually can be attributed to indoor air pollution, disproportionately affecting women and children.

Women play a crucial role in the agricultural sector; contributing over 70 per cent of food production in the country. However, the lack of electricity infrastructure in rural areas poses numerous challenges for these women. Insufficient access to electricity hampers their productivity and contributes to the staggering agricultural wastage rate, which exceeds 40 per cent.

Renewable energy technologies, for women and other vulnerable groups, such as solar-powered microgrids and small-scale renewable systems can provide reliable electricity access to rural communities, enabling women to engage in income-generating activities, such as small businesses, agribusiness, and cottage industries.

Renewable energy can power schools, providing reliable electricity for lighting, computers, and internet connectivity, creating a conducive environment for learning and enabling girls’ education. Access to renewable-powered digital resources and e-learning platforms can bridge the education gap for women and girls in remote areas, offering them equal opportunities for knowledge acquisition and skill development.

Renewable energy solutions, such as solar-powered lighting and clean cooking technologies, can improve healthcare facilities by ensuring reliable power for medical equipment, refrigeration of vaccines, and lighting during emergencies. Clean cooking solutions such as solar cooking stoves or biogas systems, reduce indoor air pollution, protecting women’s health and improving overall well-being. Renewable energy initiatives can provide training and capacity-building opportunities, empowering women with technical skills and knowledge in renewable energy, thus enabling them to actively contribute to sustainable development.

Addressing the electricity and energy deficits in Nigeria is crucial for empowering women, youths and vulnerable groups. Accelerating renewable energy, especially in off-grid communities, promotes inclusive development, and unlocks the immense potential of women, youths and vulnerable communities to drive socio-economic progress.

As a recommendation, the state and national government should consider:

  1. Implementing policies and regulations that encourage investment in renewable energy projects, particularly in rural areas where women are heavily involved in agriculture.
  2. Provide financial incentives to promote the adoption of renewable energy technologies, making them more accessible and affordable for women and youth entrepreneurs.
  3. Support the development of decentralised renewable energy systems, such as solar-powered irrigation systems and off-grid energy solutions, to ensure that women farmers have access to reliable electricity for irrigation, processing, and storage.
  4. Facilitate partnerships between government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and private enterprises like the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN) to address the barriers facing the sector, and to better enable their catalysing other sectors like trade and agriculture.
  5. Foster research and innovation in renewable energy solutions tailored to the unique challenges faced by women in agriculture and trade.
  6. Strengthen the capacity of women farmers by providing technical and financial support to establish renewable energy cooperatives or community-based energy initiatives.

Extracted from Daily Trust