Women in solar energy: In the U.S. and Europe this past year, the pivotal #MeToo movement has shone a light on instances of often systemic sexual abuse and harassment, particularly in the corridors of the powerful.

Kristen Nicole, Founder and Executive Director of Women in Solar Energy (WISE) draws parallels between the attitudes that have facilitated such a climate, and our relationship to the Earth’s finite resources – with solar at the intersection.

 

ISSUE 04-2018 APRIL 6, 2018 PV MAGAZINE

 

Solar power has not only proven to be a great equalizer in terms of energy access across the globe, but it is also proving to be a rich source of employment for women in many countries.

In the past year we have witnessed a fascinating culmination of news stories and social movements that have provided a glimpse into the prevalence of deviant acts of sexual violence, gender inequality and human rights violations occurring every day in the lives of women and girls all over the globe. According to RAINN, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. As the year went on, we learned of more and more sexual crimes and stories of violence against women; horrify-ing atrocities commitment by rapists and criminals such as Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nasser to name a few. 

The subsequent movements protest-ing these crimes and the lack of judicial protection against women can be viewed, in my opinion, as something of a social reality check. Many women know crimes of this nature are sadly pervasive, yet to compound the problem, people historically have suffered their traumas in silence, solitude and shame. There is little justice to protect us. These events have brought to our conscious attention that we are reaching a tipping point where either the problem has become so common it can no longer remain hidden or perhaps victims have discovered new and safer avenues to speak the truth of daily atrocities that are suffered. I believe it is a combination of both of these items. Regardless, as we all become more conscious of this horrifying reality, we are now all responsible to ensure that justice prevails in our society to put an end to these acts.

I applaud the survivors who have bravely spoken up about their experiences, especially those inspired by the #MeToo movement. To overcome fear, societal stigma and retaliation and live as a known survivor of sexual violence is an honorable and noble endeavor. We know these crimes are perpetrated as the manifestation of deep-seated individual complexes of power dynamics and have deep ramifications of life-long afflictions of PTSD, physical ailments and irrevocable psychological damage for the victims. One of our partner organizations, Honey Org, has undertaken a valiant effort to artfully document and support these truths as they come to light, in a more empowering manner for survivors.  For perspective, I think it is important to examine these interpersonal crimes in the context of how abuses of power pervade various structures of society, and thus look at how the solar energy indus-try fits into this context.

Solar gets WISE

In my opinion, there is parallel between the prevalence of the gross abuses of power in sexual violence as a reflection of societal abuses of power that occur everyday, mostly against diverse, minority, and disenfranchised populations.  We are unfortunately seeing this definition of selfishness play out on the world stage. Through the consolidation of resources, power and influence, it is apparent that an ever-increasing few are more interested in putting their selfish needs and comforts above the needs of those they govern, perhaps even a priority over the rest of humanity. I learned the lesson long ago that only rats win rat races, and I believe that we need to rede-fine power and leadership. Perhaps to more closely resemble leadership outfits such as are represented by the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (a nonprofit organization of indigenous female elders that focuses on issues such as the environment, human rights and globalization).

The most abhorrent and distasteful dis-play of injustice that has influenced my personal work and the work of Women in Solar Energy (WISE) this year has been witnessing on the global stage the abuses that occurred at Standing Rock in North Dakota against the Water Protectors. It is also significant to understand that Native American women are twice as likely than any other racial group to experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetimes; I would argue there is a common thread here of rape against women and rape of the natural world. I remember protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline in DC in 2009 and almost ten years later, these power and energy sector disputes, violence and injustices, only seem to be escalating and coming to a head.

To provide a global context of resource protests, on International Women’s Day there was a large march of Amazon Women Forest Defenders Against Extractivism in Puyo, Ecuador, very well reported on by our friends at the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN). Shortly thereafter, the Indigenous Climate Action Network in Canada hosted a fascinating lecture exploring how violence against the land through the extraction and exploitation of resources and fossil fuels perpetuates violence against women. Some societies and institutions are quick to under-stand the link. In additional to numerous University divestments, this year we also saw Ireland join Costa Rica, France and Belize to become the fourth country now to ban fossil fuel exploration all together.

This particular brand of violence against women, through an environmental and resource extraction lens, places the solar energy industry squarely at the intersection of these conflicts of interest. I believe that many of us work in the solar energy industry with the hope that if we can quickly facilitate a peaceful transition to a clean and renewable energy economy, that our lives will con-tribute to combating societal resource conflicts around the world, including those contributing to proxy conflicts in the Middle East, preservation and conservation of wilderness in Africa and Indonesia, and labor, safety and chemical disputes in Asia.

I also feel that many women hold sacred a core belief that if we can end environ-mental violence against Mother Earth, that by extension, all of the parallels of power-based violence will also come to an end, including the acts of violence against women and girls that we heard so much about this year. 

- Kristen Nicole

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