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Technology + Activism: How Solar Benefits Women in Developing Nations

January 17, 2020

Due to social and cultural norms, 21st Century women around the world still face challenges everyday simply because they were born with female bodies. Thankfully, some truly wonderful organizations have found ways to take solar technology and use it to actively improve the lives of women in developing nations.

Photo: Navil Zaveri cooking in kitchen, bhunga via flickr.

Solar Oven Society

In many cultures across the globe, cooking plays a major role in women’s lives. In some developing countries, this task includes laboriously collecting fire wood, preparing food, and standing over a smoking fire for hours on end. Not only is this extremely time consuming, but also terrible for women’s health. This activity causes respiratory disease, optical disease, and extensive burns. In addition, using large quantities of wood on a daily basis accelerates deforestation, which leads to other harmful environmental concerns such as erosion, climate change, and loss of local flora and fauna.

One organization, Solar Oven Society, donates solar ovens to communities around the world. Solar ovens are portable appliances that direct the sun’s rays to cook food—all you need is a sunny day! Especially in locations that receive a lot of direct light, this type of technology makes a substantial impact in the lives of women. Even if solar ovens only reduced the need for cooking with fire by 60% or 70%, that would still be a drastic improvement to women’s health and the local environment. All women, but especially women in developing countries, face maternal health risks. Nicholas D. Kristof stated in Half the Sky: Turing Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that, “the equivalent of 5 jumbo jets worth of women die in labor each day…life time risk of maternal death is 1,000x higher in a poor country than in the west. That should be an international scandal.”

Pregnancy and childbirth come with a host of life-threatening complications; and as Dr. Laura Stachel found, the lack of reliable electricity in rural areas of developing countries only increases the probability of those complications occurring. Many times, hospitals and clinics are connected to electric grids that regularly lose power. This in turn causes patients to either wait for the electricity to come back on or risk major procedures lit only by kerosene lamps. So Stachel and her husband Hal Aronson came together to start WE CARE Solar and create the Solar Suitcase.

Photo: Heidi De Vries, Solar suitcase headed for Africa with | via flickr.

WE CARE Solar is an organization that manufactures and distributes Solar Suitcases to countries around the world and trains locals how to operate the systems. The Solar Suitcase is a portable, battery based solar electric system that easily allows health care professionals to keep surgical LED lights running and charge other medical devices. Reliable lighting powered by solar enables doctors to confidently treat maternal health related complications quickly and efficiently, which helps them save lives.

Solar Sisters

When you invest in a woman, you are not just investing in a person but in an entire community. Economically empowering women has been shown to help end the cycle of poverty. That is why the Solar Sisters organization uses solar technology to help foster female entrepreneurship in developing countries.

Solar Sisters equips women with all the materials and training necessary to start their own business selling solar powered lights in their communities. Energy poverty is a major hurdle for over 1.6 billion people all over the world. Not having adequate and reliable electricity means less productive time due to the lack of light.

Photo: John Barrle, Solar Lights Kenya via flickr.

When the Solar Sisters entrepreneurs help their family, friends, and neighbors have access to solar lamps a lot of really great things happen:

  • Children are able to study three hours longer every day
  • Households save 30% on their expenses from not having to use kerosene lamps
  • The Solar Sister business owners double their household’s incomes

This business model supports economic independence for women, furthering education for children, and sustainability for the environment.

Solar technology is obviously great for reducing your carbon footprint and saving money on your energy bill. However, when Solar is combined with social activism it can also trigger significant medical, economic, and cultural changes for women. The beauty of Solar is that every single person on this planet has equal access to it—all you need is the technology. Luckily, we have organizations like the Solar Solar Oven Society, WE CARE Solar, and Solar Sisters who are able to make that happen.

Kelsey Gibb
Administrative Assistant and Rebate Specialist