Making use of vast energy potential – including solar, wind, and geothermal – and a grid that is nearly 100% supplied by renewable sources, Ethiopia is undertaking an ambitious project to achieve universal electricity access by 2025. In fact, not only is Ethiopia emerging as a role model for energy development in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is doing so while spearheading innovations on gender equality.
In 2018, the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU) set itself the bold task of ensuring that women are better-represented in what has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated sector. Today, women represent 20% of the utility’s workforce. EEU wants that figure to reach 30% within five years and has a long-term vision of achieving gender equality across the institution.
“Women make up 50% of society. For our utility to be effective in its corporate objective, we need to create an enabling environment for both men and women,” said EEU Chief Executive Officer Ato Shiferaw Telila. “This means creating awareness among our senior management, middle management and engineers, of the benefits of having a conducive environment for all.”
Supported by the World Bank Group, ESMAP Africa Gender and Energy Program and the State and Peacebuilding Fund Gender-Based Violence grant, EEU has allocated $4.5 million to closing gender gaps and citizen engagement.
EEU’s approach started with developing a pipeline of future workers. It has signed a unique partnership with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and 12 Ethiopian universities to provide courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that are essential to upskill the existing female staff footprint so that they match male employees in education attainments and can advance their careers the energy sector.
EEU is now offering full scholarships for female staff to go back to university to get a master's degree, or to gain certain technical training that they might lack and 40 female graduate students in STEM have a chance to complete internships at EEU for a few weeks to get tangible work experience across the country. Upon finishing their internship service; EEU will offer employment opportunities for female students if they meet onboarding requirements.
Work is also ongoing to investigate some of the barriers such as hostile study environments for women and limited professional networks to navigate the school to work transition.
Engineering student Dagmawit Alemayehu says that opportunities are opening up despite challenging circumstances. “I have to work extra hard because as a woman, the first thing they see when they look at me is: she's not supposed to be here,” Dagmawit said. “But now there are scholarships for women, and some courses are provided for free for female students. I feel like things are getting better.”
The utility has also developed leadership training for its female employees to ensure that women do not get stuck in junior roles. It has also set out to make its working environment safer for both male and female workers, by developing its first-ever gender-based violence policy and a code of conduct that makes it clear that sexual harassment is not accepted.
Gender-Based Violence Consultant Hebret Abahoy worked with the utility to examine its policies. “An assessment identified that there were no legal provisions or legal documents that defined gender-based violence and harassment, or protected survivors,” Hebret said. “Across the sector, sexual harassment is prevalent, so developing this policy was a big step.”
Thanks to World Bank support, the utility was able to analyze and identify where gaps existed between men and women, and what policies and approaches could be used to close them.
World Bank Group Gender Specialist Inka Schomer says the EEU leadership’s drive for greater gender equality has been crucial to the project.
“It’s also been really important that so many players have come together to support the utility’s efforts – including the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, deans from across Ethiopia including Addis Ababa University, and civil society organizations,” Inka said. “Availability of staff for the energy sector is heavily reliant on what happens in the education sector, so it has been fantastic to see new partnerships develop to tackle persistent gaps together.”
The World Bank is supporting Ethiopia’s electrification efforts through the Ethiopia Electrification Program (ELEAP), a $375 million International Development Association (IDA) credit approved by the World Bank Board on March 1, 2018.
Source: The World Bank