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AFRICA WOMEN’S DAY, 31 JULY: “Women are the real agents of change”

“There is no denying that the past years have deepened inequalities of every kind, but no divide has deepened more than that between men and women in all spheres of life,” this is according to H.E. Mrs Sandra Kramer, European Union’s Ambassador to South Africa.

She adds, however, that “the biggest and smartest thing we can do right now is to work together to recommit to advancing women and girls rights; to ensure they participate fully and equally in education, in business, in government, in civil society and in decision-making. Because gender equality is both a fundamental human rights issue and an economic empowerment issue to make our societies more peaceful, stable and prosperous.”Ambassador Kramer’s comments are rather sobering on a day that we are celebrating women and girls and a stark reminder of why Africa Women’s Day on 31 July (still) exists. (In South Africa, August is celebrated as Women’s Month with Women’s Day on 9 August.) Nevertheless, our mission to find inspiring messages on this day for Africans of all genders from leading ladies, stakeholders, partners and experts, all lodestars in their own right, yielded a treasure trove of positivity, support, encouragement, hope and success stories!

Real agents of change
It is well known that sustainability is not possible without equality. Women play a key role in the management, conservation, exploitation and utilisation of natural resources as consumers and educators, despite having serious limitations in access and control of these resources. According to the World Economic Forum, ”Empowering women to participate equally in the global economy could add $28 trillion in GDP growth by 2025.”

“I truly believe that women are the real agents of change,” states Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, and Co-Chair of UN-Energy, “helping countries to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and in particular SDG 7 on energy. Their contribution must be recognized, and their voices and opinions heard if we are to truly realize Africa’s clean energy transition and its sustainable development ambition.”

Female icons

According to Mandy Rambharos, Vice-President: Global Climate Cooperation at the Environmental Defence Fund “there is a strength to women that is unmatched—strong women do not lack fear, but go on despite the fear to conquer obstacles. We have seen this through history, from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, from Audre Lorde to Wangari Maathi.

The former head of Climate Just Transition at Eskom adds: “we see more and more women shattering stereotypes, and moving into jobs in the green economy, driving issues, such as sustainable energy access, speaking out on climate change issues, involved in on-the-ground projects uplifting communities and protecting livelihoods.”

Ms Rambharos is not the only one to draw inspiration from Wangari Maathi, the pioneering Kenyan activist who founded the Green Belt Movement and became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Says Mardé van Wyk, Venture Partner at Advanced Pioneer Ventures, “Sustainable development depends on women as catalysts in their communities, driving the just energy transition towards a greener future. As Wangari Maathai aptly said, ‘When you empower a woman, you empower a community,’ highlighting the undeniable truth that empowering women has a ripple effect on society.”

Nicole Iseppi, Director of Global Energy Innovation at Bezos Earth Fund and anchor partner to the Global Energy Alliance for People & Planet (GEAPP), quotes another global icon in women’s causes. “I often think of the inspiring statement made by Michelle Obama that ‘We need all hands on deck and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate a career.’

She continues: “This is especially important to consider in our industry and actively put into play now, more than ever. All the Sustainable Development Goals have targets that highlight women’s equality and empowerment to be a part of both, the objective and the solution. Thus, in order to bridge the gaps to accelerating our global energy transition, women have a critical role to play.”

Unique perspective
Dr Mallé Fofana, Director for Africa and Head of Programs at the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) firmly believes that in the face of climate change challenges, African women stand as “resilient pillars, sowing seeds of sustainability and reaping harvests of hope for future generations. Their wisdom and strength inspire us to cultivate a world where gender equality and environmental preservation walk hand in hand, empowering us all to grow a greener, fairer and more harmonious tomorrow.”

Sustainable development is intricately tied to the empowerment of women, and recognising the immense potential they hold is essential for progress on the African continent according to Teboho Makhabane, the Head of ESG & Impact at Sanlam Investments.

“As we pursue sustainable development,” she explains, “one of the key objectives is to ensure access and affordability for all. Women play a pivotal role in this process as they bring unique perspectives, shed light on overlooked issues, and amplify the voices of those often ignored. Women’s involvement in decision-making processes ensures a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to finding solutions.”

Dominic Wilhelm, founder of The Global Trust Project, concurs: “Women’s unique shared experiences, understanding of societal challenges and insight into perceptions of fairness are foundational to building enduring coalitions. Put another way, women are in the business of trust building without which humanity cannot flourish economically, socially and environmentally. Without women, the SDGs will remain an apparition on the distant horizon of humanity.”

 

Women entrepreneurs
“We need to recognise and appreciate the accomplishments and the resilience of women in all walks of life,” states Belvana Abeli, Wesgro’s Green Economy Investment Portfolio Manager, “from entrepreneurs, scientists, to farmers and community leaders. Women have really been driving positive change and making significant strides in various fields, including related to environmental and green initiatives.”

She adds: “Women entrepreneurs also play a crucial role in driving sustainable businesses and green initiatives, and by providing them with access to capital and resources and providing mentorship, we can unlock the full potential as agents of positive change in the green economy.”

Given the right opportunities, women can lead in any field, is the view of Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, Editor-in-Chief, ESI Africa. “Someone that comes to mind is Rebecca Miano, who is currently the Cabinet Secretary for the East African Community, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and Regional Development. Miano took bold steps as the CEO of KenGen to lead the company to focus on clean, sustainable and competitively priced modern energy for all in Kenya. Under her guidance, KenGen is the region’s leading expert in geothermal development. By celebrating Women’s Day, we can reflect on women like Miano, their achievements and how to support future women experts and leaders.”

Backbone of the economy

Women also play an important role in the extractive and mining industry, particularly in the artisanal and informal sectors. “Women are the backbone of every economy, from low to high levels, even in industrialised economies,” declares Frank Mugyenyi, Founder and Global Executive Director, Minerals African Development Institution (MADI).

“In mining, we have women who are digging, working in shafts going down the mines, but you also have geologists and investors and women involved in all areas of the value chain, logistics and so forth, and manufacturing jewellery is a key industry for women; so we have to support them with green technologies.”

Former Miss Universe, Michelle McLean-Bailey, who is a tourism and investment ambassador for Namibia, views 31 July as a double celebration as it is also her birthday: “We honour all women on our continent for their sacrifices and hard work in the struggle and liberation against discrimination and gender. We thank our foremothers, and I personally would like to thank my mother and my sisters, and all the women in my life and the mentors that I’ve had, for so many years, to be able to be an ambassador for Namibia. It really is about empowering women in society, recognising their huge contributions to society as nurturers and birthgivers, as well as businesswomen.”

Speaking of entrepreneurs, Amiene van der Merwe is the MD of The Green Cab, an eco-innovation, green mobility company based in Cape Town, offering South Africa’s first transport solution with eco-credentials.

“Africa Women’s Day is an opportune time to celebrate the role that we play on the continent, in particular as custodians of the earth,” says the bubbly businesswoman.

“The clarion call of the climate crises demands boldness and determination. Businesses in the green economy, such as The Green Cab, provide a vehicle for women to be in the driving seat of climate change mitigation. Only if we accelerate our efforts will we reverse the slide into further ecological debt. So, what are we waiting for? Join the green drive!”

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