Women and Solar Lighting

Many women in rural Kenya still use a kerosene lamp to light their home.© Andres Bifani/Lighting Africa 2012.
© Andres Bifani/Lighting Africa 2012.

Lighting Africa organized a stakeholder’s meeting in May 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya to explore the role of women in the modern solar lighting market.

The meeting brought together distributors, representatives of women groups, NGOs and micro-finance organizations to discuss their roles in increasing the uptake of off-grid lighting in rural areas.

Outcomes of the meeting included the need for NGOs, MFIs and distributors of solar lighting products to be sensitive to the needs of low income women, and the numerous demands on their limited income.

Stakeholders acknowledged that how women organize themselves into groups to address their socio-economic needs presented a unique opportunity for market players along the solar lights’ value chain to accelerate the expansion of off- grid lighting in rural areas by working with these groups as product distribution outlets.

Women Groups that were new to modern solar lighting products expressed great interest in getting the products either for their own domestic use, or for income generating purposes. They identified product pricing and negative experiences with poor quality of the earlier solar lighting imports as key deterrents to their engagement with solar products.

Micro-finance institutions present acknowledged that their products and credit systems for energy products were not as flexible as they could be.  They committed to develop special financial products to enable low-income clients purchase of solar lights, with a special focus on products for women’s groups and solar business start-ups.

Participants of the workshop agreed that they all had a role to play in increasing the awareness of the available quality-verified products in the communities in which they work.

Lighting Africa launched a “Fund-a-Project” competition, which would provide up to US$10,000 in matching funds per project idea to applicants with the best business plan for promoting the financing, sales and distribution of solar lights to and by women in off-grid areas.

The meeting discussed the findings of a Lighting Africa study which identified women-specific challenges and opportunities for their participation in the growing off-grid lighting market.  The study found that lack of access to finance, low consumer awareness on the benefits of solar lighting and lack of knowledge on the available quality-verified products among women as key deterrents to their effective participation in the market.

Women consumers and entrepreneurs also have less and limited access to product distributors and suppliers which further bars them from accessing the products, and generally limits overall uptake of modern solar lighting products in Kenya.