Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is just a three-hour flight from Brisbane – making the people of PNG our closest neighbours. Australia has one of the largest connected electricity grids in the world – covering vast distances and rural homes and businesses. Contrarily, Papua New Guinea faces extreme access problems. Only 13% of the 8.6 million people have access to reliable grid electricity, putting PNG’s rate of energy poverty among the highest globally. Given the proximity to Australia – with so many resources to help, this is unacceptable.
The ‘PNG Electrification Partnership’ will see Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the USA working together with Papua New Guinea to achieve 70% electrification by 2030, but something needs to be done in the meantime. Solar can provide this alternative solution and help mitigate the health, educational, economic and environmental impacts people face due to energy poverty.
How women in Papua New Guinea are affected by energy poverty
A country’s access to clean, affordable energy is a precursor to achieving gender equality. In Papua New Guinea, this extremely low electrification rate is a major barrier to women and girls’ economic prosperity, educational empowerment as well as overall well-being.
Traditional village settings mean women are expected to perform more domestic labour, keeping them inside the home more. This also means women are more frequently exposed to the indoor air pollution caused by the burning of firewood and use of kerosene lanterns. This can lead to serious health consequences, like lung infections and fatal fires. Unfortunately, women in PNG also have less access to important health services due to being more impoverished.
As well as this, women and their daughters have to spend a significant portion of their days collecting fuel for lighting and cooking, meaning girls often miss out on important schooling hours. Providing women in PNG with an alternative lighting source can create an intergenerational improvement on girls’ education, whose time can be freed from domestic duties and dedicated to their studies.
Solar energy and economic empowerment for women
“Energy is very important in women’s daily lives, especially for serving food for families, lighting for teaching their children at night, and energy for their small food industries… For the women [in developing countries] a change that would allow them to be financially independent would have the most impact in their lives.”Dr. Nurzainah Ginting, Indonesia (Head of Eco-enzyme Team of UI GreenMetric World University Rankings Network (UIGWURN).
Energy access has a direct correlation on economic growth and empowerment. In 2021, almost 40% of people in PNG lived below the poverty line – with women and children the most vulnerable. Providing an immediate solar energy solution allows women in PNG to dedicate more time to economically advancing activities.
Microenterprises are a common new form of income generation for women in rural areas – where they often sell crafts and clothing they have made. Finding ways to support these businesses to generate more income can improve financial security, access to health and education and overall well-being. Solar lighting access can allow women to draw in more customers and extend their working hours.
Embracing technology and innovation for women’s equality
This year’s IWD theme is “DigitALL”, a play on words that represents a worldwide priority of empowering women and girls through education in the age of innovation and technological change.
We must champion and embrace innovation and technology to advance gender equality, not leave women and girls behind as we move. This is especially true for women in rural communities, who often have little to no access to technology and digital tools to use as valuable educational resources. How can we help to change this?
SolarBuddy is committed to embracing this change, and has started to distribute a new, innovative solar product to women in Papua New Guinea, ‘StudentBuddy’. StudentBuddy provides recipients with not only a powerful, room illuminating light to continue working and learning after dark, but two USB charging ports. The ports allow recipients to keep their devices charged through the power of the sun – rather than walking long distances and spending income at charging stations.
This is a project we are working on with the support of the GHD Foundation, who understand the importance of fighting inequality for women in PNG. The goals of the program include improved education and enrolment for female students and improved economic outcomes for female-led microenterprises. Overall, the project aims to improve safety, well-being, access to health services and overall uplifted communities.
“Light for Life will truly change students’ lives forever, by improving their educational outcomes, and health and wellbeing. Enabling female led small businesses to operate after dusk, improve their skills, and contribute to their local economies will benefit entire communities. SolarBuddy are extremely grateful to the GHD Foundation for the difference their funding will make to thousands of lives.”Tara Williams, SolarBuddy’s Programs & Partnerships Manager.
StudentBuddies land in PNG
We are proud to announce the distribution of 20 StudentBuddies in Papua New Guinea, in time to celebrate International Women’s Day. These were distributed to the Gabagaba Women’s Group in Gabagaba, Central Province, Papua New Guinea. They were distributed by our incredible NGO partner, The Kokoda Track Foundation.
The Kokoda Track Foundation, who connected us with the Gabagaba Women’s Group, have told us that the StudentBuddy solutions will support the small businesses run by the women in the group, and allow them to further their business skills and operations. Access to light is also imperative to the safety of women and girls.
We are very fortunate to have received communications from some of the recipients in the group, to hear from them directly as to how they will utilise StudentBuddy. Kila Tuanamo is a widowed mother from Hula, who attends the Women’s Group for sewing classes.
“I am really happy because I come to the women’s group to sew masks and Pawa Packs (female sanitary items) and when we sell, we get a profit share. From the profit share I was to set up a small business in front of my house for my children and make an extra income so I am able to pay for their stationery needs. SolarBuddy will allow me to keep busy in the dark.”Kila Tuanamo
Togota is a single mother from the Central Province, her village is called Tagana. To support herself and her family, she sells her food at the local market.
“Coming to the [women’s] group and learning new skills is something I look forward to. StudentBuddy will help me with new skills in the dark to help me in the future and support my family financially.”Togota
As a single mother, the torch setting on StudentBuddy will also provide her with extra safety for walking around at night.
SolarBuddy is proud this International Women’s Day, and every day beyond, to be supporting women in Papua New Guinea. We embrace innovation and change to constantly find ways to improve education and overall well-being for women in PNG, and all women living in extreme energy poverty.