Ethiopia: Expanding Opportunities for Women in the Electricity Sector
Photo credit: Bartosz Hadyniak/istock
As Ethiopia expands electricity access and creates jobs in renewable energy, the Ethiopia Electric Utility (EEU) is implementing sweeping efforts to create more opportunities for women in the traditionally male-dominated electricity sector. Through initiatives including scholarships and internships to women in STEM fields, and new policies against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, EEU aims to employ 30% women by 2023.
Ethiopia has been noted for its energy policy. Nearly all of the country’s electricity already comes from renewable sources (though mainly hydropower, with its attendant ecological and social challenges). Ethiopia aims to achieve universal electricity access by 2025, and its NDC is one of just eight worldwide that have been deemed to be compatible with keeping global warming below 2 degrees C.
In 2018, 26,000 people in Ethiopia worked in the renewable electricity industry, up from 23,000 in 2013. Ethiopia’s National Plan for Job Creation 2020-2025 anticipates nearly 35,000 total direct jobs in renewable electricity by 2025, an increase of 36%, as well as the creation of up to 70,000 new indirect jobs. It is not clear what types of renewable power sources these jobs may be linked to. These figures would increase with government support to domestic manufacturing — for example, a local manufacturing and service industry for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems alone could create an estimated 50,000 full-time skilled jobs by 2020. Ethiopia’s 2015 NDC also highlights that a low-carbon transition can create jobs and socio-economic benefits.
However, those benefits are not always equally distributed, especially along gender lines. As of late 2019, women represented just 19.2% of the workforce in the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU) — 3,270 women total — and they held only 9% of managerial and leadership positions. EEU is a public enterprise responsible for distributing electricity across Ethiopia.
Policies, Actions and Results
In 2018, the EEU resolved to improve opportunities for women in the traditionally male-dominated electricity sector. It set a target of 30% women employees within five years, and a longer-term vision of gender equality across the institution. Though this initiative does not specifically target renewable energy jobs, this is the implicit focus since most of Ethiopia’s energy already comes from renewable sources (mainly hydropower), with the share expected to rise in the future. More specifically, by 2023, EEU aims to:
- Increase the number of women employees in STEM-related positions by 25%.
- Increase the share of women employees to 30%.
- Increase the number of women with graduate degrees (i.e. master’s) by 30%.
- Increase the number of women in leadership and decision-making positions by 30%.
Supported by the World Bank, the ESMAP Africa Gender and Energy Program and the State and Peacebuilding Fund Gender-Based Violence grant, EEU has allocated $4.5 million to gender equity and citizen engagement within the $375 million budget for the Ethiopia Electrification Program (ELEAP). Funds will be disbursed according to results-based triggers, roughly $1 million per year. Since 2018, EEU’s efforts have been guided internally by a Gender Steering Committee (consisting of senior managers) and a Gender Technical Committee (consisting of heads of departments or units, including labor union representatives). These committees work closely with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children and Youth.
To develop a pipeline of female workers, EEU partnered with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and 12 Ethiopian universities, including Addis Ababa, University to provide courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This training will be essential for improving the qualifications of existing female staff so they can match the educational attainment of their male counterparts and advance their careers in the energy sector. For its current workers, EEU is offering 44 full scholarships for female staff to get a master’s degree or undergo specific technical training they currently lack. EEU also aims to help women rise within the organization by developing leadership training for its female employees.
For current students (and potential future workers), EEU offered internships to 40 female graduate students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics, who gained six to eight weeks of hands-on work experience at locations around the country, with the opportunity to get permanent jobs with EEU if they meet onboarding requirements. The scholarships and internships are funded from the $4.5 million allocation described above.
EEU also conducted an assessment of barriers to female employment in the industry. This research included sex-disaggregated data collection tools in EEU core departments, an institutional assessment on gender-based violence and a needs assessment on childcare services. The analysis found that there were no legal provisions or documents that defined gender-based violence and harassment or protected survivors, even though sexual harassment is prevalent across the sector.
Following this analysis, with support from World Bank experts, EEU created its first policies on sexual harassment and gender-based violence, specifically a Sexual Harassment Policy, Sexual Harassment Code of Conduct and Grievance Redress Mechanism. The utility raised awareness of the new policies among all staff using brochures, fliers and posters, and also rolled out a new training program on gender-based violence prevention and response. As a result of the childcare needs assessment, EEU hired a childcare expert, allocated a budget for the daily operation of childcare centers and began renovations with the goal of opening 20 childcare centers by 2020 (one at the head office in Addis Ababa, 11 in regional offices and eight at district offices). To overcome the barrier of limited professional networks for women in the sector, EEU developed an employee mentorship program for women in STEM and emerging female leaders, which will benefit 52 women (25 in STEM fields).
Relatedly, the Ethiopian Women in Energy Network was founded in January 2019 with the goal of empowering women in the energy sector through networking and training opportunities. Wider efforts to close gender gaps across Ethiopia’s electricity sector won the World Bank President’s Award for Excellence.
- Engaging with workers and partners: The EEU solicited detailed input from female workers on the barriers and needs they faced, which resulted in concrete actions like providing childcare and developing new policies on sexual harassment and gender-based violence. The EEU also partnered with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and 12 Ethiopian universities to help improve the qualifications of female workers. These activities complemented the work of civil society groups like the Ethiopian Women in Energy Network.
- Developing a pipeline of future female employees: By supporting female STEM students through scholarships and internships, EEU took a long-term, proactive approach toward increasing the pool of qualified female employees.
- Identifying and overcoming barriers: In some cases, ambitious and well-intended gender equality targets can be difficult to achieve due to structural barriers such as lack of qualified candidates, social norms or workplace culture. EEU worked to systematically identify and address barriers and challenges — for example, by implementing policies on sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
Challenges and Gaps
- Results not yet clear: Initial efforts are promising, but the coming years will reveal whether EEU is able to achieve its targets of 30% women employees within five years, and longer-term gender equality across the institution.
- Bayeh, Y.L. 2019. Closing Gender Gaps – Ethiopia Energy Sector. Presentation at the Women in Power Sector Professional Network in South Asia (WePOWER), Manila, 21 November.
- Ethiopian Women in Energy Network website: http://ewien.org.
- Job Creation Commission Ethiopia. 2019.National Plan for Job Creation 2020–2025. Addis Ababa.
- World Bank. 2020. Ethiopia Broadens Opportunities for Women in the Energy Sector. Website feature story, February 2020. Addis Ababa and Washington, DC.