Gender inequality and women leadership with Rabia Ferroukhi

“Renewable energy deployment presents many employment opportunities for women, as well as the chance to become entrepreneurs and run their own businesses, such as the case of the ‘Solar Sister’ in rural sub-Saharan Africa.”

Most jobs in the renewable energy sector are handled by men, and as main author of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report titled “Renewable Energy and Jobs”, Rabia Ferroukhi is a vocal advocate for more female participation and believes there is huge potential in women playing a bigger role in this growing sector.

Ferroukhi has enjoyed an illustrious 20-year career in the fields of energy, development and the environment. She currently leads IRENA’s policy team, looking at how renewable energy plans are designed and how these can be integrated into government energy policies. She is also the acting director for the knowledge, policy and finance division of the Abu Dhabi-based agency.

Ferroukhi has also worked with governments in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE and the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, as well as with energy companies in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Here Ferroukhi speaks to Eco-Business about what governments and businesses can do to create more jobs and attract talent to the sector, especially in providing equal opportunities for both men and women.


Medilyn Manibo: What inspires you to work in renewable energy?

Rabia Ferroukhi: The future of our planet and that of future generations — it is difficult to look at changes taking place on our planet today and not feel concerned. We all agree that transformation is needed in how energy is produced and consumed in order to reduce the negative environmental, social and economic impacts. We should all look at areas where we can contribute. Energy is very important in economic development, and I believe supporting nations in implementing policies that promote cleaner forms of energy can lead us to a more sustainable development path.

What are some key issues that need to be addressed to encourage more women in the sector?

While preparing the Renewable Energy and Jobs report, our analysis revealed that what hinders women’s participation in the renewable energy sector are self-perceptions about working as engineers or in other technical jobs, which are still mostly dominated by men.

Women are also limited by their mobility to take up jobs where they have to travel or relocate for a longer period, as locations of large renewable energy construction projects are often in remote areas. But many women are expected to remain traditionally tied to responsibilities at home.

Another thing is the lack of access to basic education and training. Statistics in the report revealed that women enrolment in science and technology programmes are still lagging.

Addressing these barriers at the national and local levels is essential to increasing women’s participation in the sector, which in turn will expand the pool of talent and meet the skills needed in this growing industry.

The lack of access to energy sources contributes to gender inequity, especially in developing countries. How can renewable energy help in this respect?

Renewable energy provides opportunities to improve gender equity. First, the use of renewable energy technology can reduce the long hours spent on collecting fuelwood. This gives women the time to pursue education and employment opportunities.

Second, women are more prone to illness due to indoor air pollution from household solid fuel use. Using modern cook stoves can help greatly reduce 
the risk of respiratory diseases.

Third and most importantly, renewable energy deployment presents many employment opportunities for women, as well as the chance to become entrepreneurs and run their own businesses, such as the case of the ‘Solar Sister’ in rural sub-Saharan Africa.

Addressing these barriers at the national and local levels is essential to increasing women’s participation in the sector, which in turn will expand the pool of talent and meet the skills needed in this growing industry.

What are some good examples of initiatives or policies that can help women become key players in the renewable energy sector?

We are already seeing several initiatives in some countries such as India, Kenya and Senegal, which have undertaken gender audits of their energy sector to identify whether gender is mainstreamed, or how it can be mainstreamed, into public policy.

Governments can also play an important role in promoting gender equality through policies that target the development of skills. This includes identifying and providing training for skills needed by both women and men, attracting female students into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education fields, and ensuring that opportunities are equally accessible to both genders.One example of women’s participation in the STEM fields is the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment initiative which has Australia, Denmark, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, among others, as its active participants.

Another important initiative is providing adequate training or vocational apprenticeship programmes. In the EU, the European Social Fund is dedicated to financing training projects in several areas, including renewable energy, and it ensures that its programmes attract and integrate women and men equally.

The case of Solar Sister in Sub-Saharan Africa or Barefoot College in India (which provides solar installation training for rural women) also amply demonstrate the vital role that women entrepreneurs can play in the production, installation and operations and maintenance of renewable energy systems, including managing these systems as entrepreneurs.

Is there a Western-Eastern divide when it comes to women leadership in this sector? What factors enable these women to succeed in this field and what can be improved to allow more women to have such opportunities?

There are numerous success stories of women leadership in renewable energy and it is not necessarily divided between the developed and developing world. We see women in leadership roles in different countries and cultures.

Among the factors that enable women to succeed in the field are regulations promoting gender mainstreaming; available access to assets, finance and training; and, no gender discrimination during recruitment. However, there are areas for improvement. One would be to integrate gender roles while making policies and crafting renewable energy programmes to ensure they consider how both men and women can equally contribute to the development of the industry.

Gender mainstreaming can be done at different levels of policy, programme or project, including at the organisational level, to ensure the challenges that women face in the industry are addressed. Most importantly, the participation of women is increased when they have access to the appropriate education and training.

As senior policy advisor at IRENA, what role do you think can the organisation play in providing equal opportunities in the sector?

IRENA works closely with its member states in developing enabling policy frameworks that allow for accelerated renewable energy deployment while also maximising the socio-economic benefits.
Through its activities, IRENA informs gender-sensitive policy-making through studies such as those recorded in the Renewable Energy and Jobs report that focus on bridging the existing knowledge gap in renewable energy employment data.

Including gender in the employment analysis can be instrumental in guiding policy design towards promoting equal opportunities within the sector. 
In the coming years, IRENA will continue its endeavour in introducing the gender dimension of employment as an integral element of the mainstream discussions surrounding renewable energy adoption.

Reprinted with permission of the author: Medilyn Manibo
Original content from: Eco-Business. First published on April 23rd, 2014