Published on Arab Voices

Getting more women into the energy sector: A RENEW’ed approach for MENA

Woman working with large vat in lab. Woman working with large vat in lab.

During a discussion held with women in the energy sector to learn more about their experiences in Amman, Jordan, one woman called Maleeka, who is an electrical engineer and entrepreneur said, “I had a difficult time looking for a job. While I had a strong academic record, I didn't have any practical experience. My technical qualifications in engineering were not good since we did not have any equipment to be trained on at the university. And it also didn’t help that I was a woman.”

Maleeka’s story is not unusual. The energy sector remains a male-dominated field across the world, and this is no different in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Women in MENA already have a generally low participation rate in the labor force, with only 20% of women employed or seeking employment (less than half of the global average).  Therefore, in the energy sector, that figure is even lower, despite MENA having 50% of female graduates  in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Our recent World Bank assessment “Toward More and Better Jobs for Women in Energy” shows that in many MENA countries, women represent less than 10% of the energy workforce, and an average of 5% in technical fields or in management.  In cases like Tunisia, where 27% of the workforce are female (according to the 2014 Tunisia Labor Market Panel Survey), further digging shows that all are in clerical positions or in low skilled services which can be due to a combination of factors such as restrictive norms, legal barriers that reinforce gender stereotypes, and occupation segregation. While the numbers seem higher in renewables, there are only slight differences. For example, in Jordan and Egypt, the difference between women in renewables vs in overall energy sector is only 1%.

The exclusion of women comes at a cost to the overall economy. The IMF estimates that addressing gender gaps could add up to over 20% to the region’s Gross Domestic Product.  It’s also good for business. Companies with gender diverse boards are more productive and more profitable: there are reports that indicate companies with 30% of women in leadership are much more likely to succeed in STEM related sectors than companies without female representation. 

In this context, the promise of equality in the energy workforce should be harnessed as an urgent imperative. The drive for energy transition and clean energy development in MENA countries will likely create more and different types of jobs with majority in the renewable market.  It is estimated that the global energy market will grow 44% by 2050 – with 80% of these jobs in renewables as compared to 11% in fossil fuels, and 5% in nuclear energy. For example, a recent World Bank study showed that from the lowest to highest scenarios, the impact will be creating 1.4 to 3.8 million net jobs in Egypt alone over the period of 2020-2050.

What can we do about it?

The World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa Energy and Gender (MENAGEN) program is taking on this promise for change in labor markets as part of a Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) approach. Learning from networks that support women in energy in countries from around the world, the MENAGEN program aims to launch a MENA Regional Network in Energy for Women (RENEW-MENA).

The main objectives of RENEW-MENA are to increase women’s economic participation across the energy sector value chain and more specifically in clean energy transition jobs.  It aims to encourage better workplace conditions in private and public sectors, combat widespread gender stereotypes about women’s role in STEM fields, and increase the visibility of women in the sector. It will do this by carrying out activities under the following pillars: (i) Facilitating STEM Education to Work Transitions; (ii) Advancing Recruitment, Retention & Advancement; and (iii) Promote Entrepreneurship and Financial Inclusion.

To learn more about our RENEW-MENA initiative, you watch a replay of our recent launch event and register here!


Husam Beides

Practice Manager, MENA Energy, World Bank

Elisabeth Maier

Senior Operations Officer

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