A woman of many talents, Filagot Tesfaye, was so kind as to answer our questions. She is a consultant, an engineer and example of working for one's community!
She is also the founder, and managing director of ON ENERGY CONSULT in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her company has the mission "to integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions into existing and planned electrical systems." And her vision is that "all communities in Ethiopia should have access to clean, affordable electricity." As a member of the Global Women Network for Energy transition and once a mentee herself, she is now passionate about mentoring young girls. She teaches issues in renewable energy and energy efficiency for diverse groups of her community. She has also founded Ethiopian women in Energy network (EWiEn) in 2019.
She has answered our questions about women in energy sector, her future plans and the importance of clean energy for gender equality.
It has become painfully evident that we need to take better care of our planet, and switching to renewable energy is a great way to achieve that. So, what is it that women can do to accelerate the transition to renewables?
It all starts with human beings. People are the ones who can care for the environment. If we can develop and transform the mind of the people, we can transform their environment. I believe this effort starts with childhood development. Teaching women means teaching the community. And going one step ahead, we need to show this to the women, who are the future mothers.
On the other hand, women are the primary energy consumers; hence all energy transition projects should involve women. The energy sector of Ethiopia is mostly relying on traditional biomass energy due to limited access to modern energy sources. Women are disproportionally affected by the lack of energy access in Ethiopia. Ethiopian households who have access to at least one source of electricity accounts 44%, and the remaining 56% have no access to any electricity source. 88% of energy source is from biomass, and from this, the household sector accounts for 88.2% of total final energy consumption which is majorly used by women.
Ethiopian women are more vulnerable due to the lack of energy access. As women are the main energy users of a community, they are affected by indoor air pollution resulting in negative health effects on them. The use of traditional wood-fired cook stoves and open fires is leading to serious health problems, especially for women and children who are majorly exposed. A further problem is that the strenuous task of collecting firewood for cooking is usually carried out by women, which is leading to injuries, pregnancy complications and even maternal mortality. Women and children are mostly facing the risk of injuries due to kerosene burn in the rural areas of Ethiopia.
At first glance, women should change their attitude to shift from their traditional way of solving their cooking needs to cleaner and robust solutions. They don't need to stay in the same place based on their immediate needs. They should be convinced that they deserve reliable and healthy energy access. They can select and adopt renewable energy sources for their daily activities. If they see the long term impact on their family, they will find out ways to use renewable sources. They should be engaged in selecting the technologies they use. Techniques that have been designed in collaboration with women are more likely to be accepted.
What advice can you give to women who want to enter the renewable energy sector?
Women can understand the burden of women, and they can provide a gender-based solution, as they know the problem. I encourage women to enter the renewable energy sector and be able to innovate better solutions. As they are the primary users, they should decide on their and their children's future. They need to capture this purpose because it gives energy. Don't focus on what you do, but focus on why you do it. Focus on the impact that their role is indispensable, it is not replaceable. We need more women [in this field] as they bring unique solutions.
What are some barriers or obstacles women face in the renewable energy sector?
The main obstacle is not the sector by itself; the obstacle is the journey to get there. But after women get there, obstacles are pretty much the same with male counterparts, with what happens in other engineering sectors. So to get there, they are not preferred by the sector leaders [in the first place], as there is an assumption that 'it is not the best career for women'. There is a society that claims women are created or are only responsible for taking care of their homes alone, especially in a patriarchal culture like Ethiopia.
Sometimes women have to make choices themselves from home-making or being successful in science fields by excelling in all of their activities. They need to prove that they are capable [of achieving great things]. I believe that no one wants to attach themselves with less competent ones. They should be excellent at home caring and excellent in the market place as well. They should put the light on themselves. But I don't think the barriers will make them stay back, they are steppingstones to explore the next opportunity of their lives.
What kind of conditions would enable women to partake in the renewable energy sector more?
Inclusion is essential when we talk about bringing energy-related solutions. Women have a bigger stake not to have men tailored solutions; women should be included, consulted. We need to be included as a stakeholder in policy discussion, empowerment. Recognizing their condition, women focus on awareness-raising, mainstreaming women's issues in projects which will make them select the RE sector, and to teach their children about it. Besides, we need a platform to show role models. The younger girls will be motivated then.
How do you think greater gender equity and participation in research can be achieved in STEM?
By making it mandatory [in schools]. As researchers, we need a story in each project. We need researches that tell stories of a community. Then, women will be more interested.
As a final remark, although you have so much going on, what are your future projects to empower women regarding their participation in the clean energy sector?
My next plan is to be involved in women energy entrepreneurs' incubation projects. I want to mobilize girls, researchers, and community leaders to develop innovative solutions with a viable business for energy supply in Ethiopia.
Desclaimer: This interview was conducted by and first pubished on SOLAR ENERGY ENGINEERING. eepBp feels compelled to share this important interview content to the Ethiopian audience and republished it here upon permission.