Transition to the green economy offers great opportunities for women, but problems remain

22nd February 2024

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The move to a green economy is a move to a more feminine economy, affirmed KD Strategies founding director Kalnisha Singh on Thursday. She was participating in a panel discussion at the Women in the Green Economy breakfast, a function of the Africa Green Economy Summit 2024, being held in Cape Town. “This is our time!”

The green economy was not an alternative to the mainstream economy; it would be the mainstream economy, she asserted. The green economy allowed, especially in Africa, the redefinition of industrialisation. It was a travesty that Africa had not yet experienced development, and that 70% of the continent’s population still lived in poverty.

The green economy offered great opportunities, she highlighted. Women should be audacious and should stop bemoaning being excluded. “Now is our time to recreate the system,” she reaffirmed.   

Participating in the same panel, Comprehensive Action for Climate Change Initiative Africa lead Dr Nalishebo Meebelo reported that research had shown that women leaders were more likely to give attention to climate change. Responding to climate change created opportunities for women, but it was important to prevent history repeating itself, with women being marginalised.

“Women, by far, make the most energy decisions in the home, particularly in low-income homes,” pointed out another panellist, City of Cape Town Energy Efficiency and Renewable Facilitation Manager Mary Haw. But very few women were involved in energy decisions at high levels.

Skills were important. Were science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes inclusive of girls, she pondered? Her daughter’s school did offer robotics courses, but her son’s school offered more robotics courses.

Singh observed that a flaw in thinking was the tendency to assume that innovation came from people with tertiary education. In fact, it usually came from people without tertiary education. That mindset needed to be changed.

Women active in even low-skill green economy activities, such as waste picking at landfill sites, faced all sorts of practical difficulties, pointed out Southern African Development Community Environmental and Climate Change Portfolio senior programme officer Sibongile Mavimbela. Citing a South African example, she referred to a total lack of facilities, such as toilets, for women, their need to work even if they were suffering from bad periods, or in advanced stages of pregnancy, or having to take care of babies. They were also vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

These problems were not restricted to poor women in South Africa. Haw gave the example of wind turbine technicians. There was a training course for these specialists in Cape Town, and 51% of the graduates were women. But keeping them in the industry was proving difficult because, once deployed, they ran into the problems of no toilets, no appropriate accommodation, personal protection equipment designed for men and which didn’t fit women well, and the danger of gender-based violence.

For women, especially those leading new businesses, to succeed in the emerging green economy, they had to break the glass ceiling and find “a seat at the table”, urged Mavimbela. And, once they had that seat, they had to “drop the keys” to other women, to allow them to follow suit.

“Stay abreast of the information,” urged Singh. This would ensure that women green business leaders could move with the trends, and not fall behind.

“We can’t do it alone,” affirmed Haw. “We need to create a team around us. And drop the balls that aren’t important.” That team would include supportive men. Telling young women that they could do it all, on their own, could result in disillusionment and burn-out. Women had to work harder, and be proud of their own achievements, but also of the achievements of other women. When they found themselves a seat at the table, they should speak up. And they should help other women to follow in their footsteps. 

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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