I recently travelled to Zanzibar, Tanzania to meet up with a group of women, known locally as the Solar Mamas, who have been installing solar panels throughout their rural, coastal community. I was awarded the Patricia Sullivan Travel Grant, established to provide junior NRDC staff with the opportunity to research a topic of interest, for the purpose of professional and personal growth. I used this opportunity to take an in depth look at the gender dynamics of energy and to see how access to solar electricity is impacting women and girls in rural East Africa.
The island of Zanzibar, located off the coast of Tanzania, is almost completely off the grid. Less than 4 percent of the island’s population has access to electricity and even those with access, don’t have enough. Life in rural Zanzibar, as in much of rural Africa, is a race against the clock—daily chores and activity must be completed before the sun goes down. After sunset, it’s totally dark and evening work and studies are impossible.
This is particularly impactful to young girls and women who spend daylight hours fulfilling domestic responsibilities. Without access to light after dark, there is no time for girls to keep up with school work or for women to partake in income generating activity.