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New program pushes role for Egyptian women in sustainable energy

An international bank is working to increase the presence of Egyptian women in the field of green energy.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has launched a program to support Egyptian women in the field of green energy by creating more employment opportunities for them and supporting their small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector.

According to an EBRD statement, the program aims to “identify challenges that prevent women’s participation in the sector and potential [skill gaps], and will work with the Egyptian authorities to overcome these issues.” The Program for Supporting Renewable Energy and Promoting Gender Equality in Egypt is one aspect of the $7 million joint technical cooperation initiative co-funded by the bank and the Green Climate Fund.

“The EBRD is putting women at the center of its commitment to Egypt’s transition to a green economy with a new initiative that supports the country’s vast potential for renewable energy,” the statement read.

Women's rights activists, economists and energy experts have praised the bank’s program, saying that it will boost Egyptian women entrepreneurs in the field and include women in Egypt’s strategy to achieve energy self-sufficiency.

“The EBRD program will open the way for more sustainable energy financing as this will help create a green economy market, which is good for the business in Egypt and the whole planet,” said Galal Othman, head of the Egyptian Wind Energy Association.

“The program will reinforce the role of the private sector in climate investment, reduce emissions and build a resilient environment. It will also support efficient and environmentally sustainable investments by providing attractive funding solutions, coupled with training and capacity-building, to foster the implementation of projects in this vital area,” Othman told Al-Monitor.

The bank said in its statement that the aim of the program is to “enhance renewable energy integration, policies and planning to support the country in meeting its target of 20% renewable energy generation by 2022 and 42% by 2035.”

Egypt has witnessed a rapid increase in energy demand and has therefore identified the country's capacity to provide renewable energy as a strategic priority.

Economists believe that with a government drive to rely on renewable energy as one of its main resources, the renewable energy sector will create new job opportunities, giving women a chance to join the growing industry.

“It is a very good step to provide support to those in need of it, most importantly women. This is one of the most important roles of international banks, to provide support for developing countries,” said Rashad Abdo, head of the Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies.

“Women in Egypt are politically and economically empowered as they are well represented in the parliament, ministries, courts and also in the business sector. However, there are still a lot of marginalized women. There are a lot of private-sector companies that do not employ women, so it is very important to spread the culture of gender-aware businesses represented in start-ups,” Abdo told Al-Monitor.

The Egyptian government has also been making efforts to support women entrepreneurs in Egypt. At a conference for businesswomen in February this year, Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said that the share of grants given to women-led micro enterprises has reached 80%.

“The ministry is working on increasing the percentage of women who will be given funding and grants in coordination with development partners. The funding to women entrepreneurs in general currently stands at 50% in light of the success achieved by women in small and medium enterprises,” Nasr told the conference.

Randa Fakhr el-Deen, the executive director of a union of nongovernmental organizations working together to protect women and children, told Al-Monitor, “Women are the foundation of sustainable development. When you empower women socially and economically, you are empowering the whole society.”

However, Fakhr el-Deen said that training is crucial for the success of women entrepreneurs or those looking to join the renewable energy sector. “The state should work on empowering women to become decision-makers and successful entrepreneurs. Financial support is not enough if it is not combined with training,” Fakhr el-Deen added.

The EBRD approach comes as part of its commitment and that of the Green Climate Fund to integrate gender initiatives in their investments and projects. The Green Climate Fund has included gender equality considerations in its projects since its establishment in 2010.

The EBRD program Women in Business focuses on gender equality in the workplace. The program aims to “create entrepreneurship opportunities for women by matching them with financing for their small businesses,” according to the EBRD, whose website reports that the program has allocated “over 480 million euros (about $545 million) across 18 countries, reaching more than 35,000 women — women like Tamara Chigogidze, the founder and CEO of Georgia’s largest radio broadcasting company.”

According to its website, the EBRD is one of the major financiers of climate projects in the regions it operates in, investing nearly 30 billion euros (around $34 billion) in green economic transformation projects since 2006 and 5.2 billion euros ($5.8 billion) in renewable energy.

The bank has allocated more than 4.8 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to finance 91 projects in Egypt, including 16 renewable energy projects.

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