GLF digital summit: Women generating the power to energize communities

Women’s voices essential to shape policy

Woman carrying a solar panel near Yangambi, Democratic Republic of Congo. CIFOR/Axel Fassio
14 March 2019
Sandra Cordon

Women can generate the power to not only energize themselves but also their families and their communities at every level. All they need is some technology, training and the freedom and space in which to work.

That was the message from a three-women panel discussing their experiences in such diverse fields as technology, energy and farm advocacy during the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Digital Summit “Women Rising for Rights” on 8 March, International Women’s Day.

“(Women) hold the key to the solutions at this intersection of energy justice, climate justice and the women’s rights movement,” Neha Misra, co-founder and chief collaboration officerat Solar Sister told the summit. The not-for-profit social enterprise, she explained, was created to access “the largest untapped source of renewable energy in the world, which I believe very strongly is woman power.”

There are times, however, when having the right tools still is not enough. Women also need the freedom and space in which they can work to make change that benefits not only themselves, but their families and their communities,  said Luisa Volpe, head of policy development with the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), representing national farmers’ cooperatives and groups worldwide.

She described how women have been prevented from participating in key forums where their voices were essential to shape policy and promote change, because social restrictions meant those women were not permitted to travel alone.

“Access to technology is one important way to support women – but it’s also necessary to change the mindsets of social representatives to give women the space they deserve,“ said Volpe, who described women as the “main pillar” that supports their family farms.

“Because when women have space and tools, they are able to do a lot for their communities – which include also men.”

The panel agreed that women’s work generally takes a very broad perspective that includes many types of communities, some based on their location, some based on their work and interests – and often, communities comprised of other women.

Women working with other women is fundamental to Solar Sister, which trains and supports women in rural Africa to become entrepreneurs in the clean energy sector, operating sustainable businesses in their own communities. Misra described an HIV-positive woman whose business success with a Solar Sister franchise not only changed her social status, from outcast to community leader, but led her to become a mentor to others. 

This foundation in community is also crucial in open source work, which focuses on developing innovative technological tools and services, free of charge to any user, to support sustainable development and land restoration, said Hajar Benelcadi, a senior data analyst in Earth Observation (EO) at mundialis GmbH & Co.

“We believe in creating communities, no matter (participants’) backgrounds or gender. We all work together,” said Benelcadi. “Open source democratizes the production and innovation of systems by promoting inclusion, no matter the gender, no matter where you come from,” she explained.

“Open source tools mean freedom, collaboration and sharing, each building on another’s findings.”

Women’s impact on their communities is extremely influential for the future as well as the present, concluded GLF youth moderator Salina Abraham. “Changing the lives of women doesn’t mean just changing their singular life, but changing the lives of their neighbors, their communities, and even future generations through their children.”


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