Cape Town: Researching the impacts of energy on women.

By Amelia Bowling, Geography Graduate.

With the generous help of the St John’s Student Opportunities Fund, I was able to partake in a research trip to Cape Town from the 23rd March – 1st April 2019. This trip centred on researching Renewable Energy Developments and their impacts on the women of Cape Town.

The view from Table Mountain.

Upon arriving in Cape Town, we explored the city to gather our bearings, before starting on our research. With stunning scenery such as Table Mountain and Lions Head mountain, this was certainly an aesthetic start to our research trip.

energy poverty is a crisis which many people are forced to endure on a daily basis

After familiarising ourselves with the surroundings, we embarked on our research project. To provide some context to our project, energy poverty is a crisis which many people are forced to endure on a daily basis. It places thousands of families in life-threatening situations; in particular, it is the women in these communities who arguably suffer the most from energy-related issues, as they are often responsible for carrying out the household chores and interacting with domestic energy sources.

solar water heaters are used to provide the households with electricity for cooking and businesses

Thus, to research on how energy can lift women out of poverty, we visited several Renewable Energy Developments, such as the site of Joe Slovo. Here, solar water heaters are used to provide the households with electricity for cooking and businesses. With local residents showing us around and welcoming us into their homes, we got the opportunity to speak to some of the women that live here. They spoke to us about their everyday lives, their experiences of solar energy and how this has helped them and their families.

My favourite memory has to be when the children who live there started hugging and high-fiving us. It was so heart-warming and touching to see how welcoming they are.

This stressed the need for more research, like ours, to be carried out.

Nevertheless, despite observing the benefits that energy can have on families in Cape Town, we also became aware of several issues that limit the way energy can help poverty-stricken families, affordability being the main obstacle. This stressed the need for more research, like ours, to be carried out.

Another visit was to the informal settlement of Enkanini, perhaps the most eye-opening experience of this trip. During these visits, we experienced some really devastating living conditions that families are forced to endure. Despite Enkanini having a population of nearly 5,000 people, there are just 2 toilet blocks within the settlement. Not only did this make me realise how lucky we are, but it also furthered my desire to carry out the research we had set out to do, so that these families could be alleviated from such poverty-stricken conditions.

Of course, the trip would not have been complete without the classic tourist activities, including climbing the infamous Table Mountain and a visit to the penguins at Boulders Beach.

Being a final-year geographer at Durham, not only did this research trip help to make a difference to the research field of women and energy, but it also cemented many of the skills that I have developed throughout my time here as a student. I am very grateful to St John’s for providing me with the help I needed in order to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Photographs taken by Amelia Bowling.

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