Last month, during a visit to the Trepça industrial complex in Mitrovica, the tour guide was explaining, among other things, that they would soon publish an open call for new employees — male employees.
“Why is the open call only for men?” I asked.
“Have you ever heard of female miners?” he answered. “This is not a job for women. It can badly influence their health.”
The idea that the energy and mining sector belongs exclusively to men is not limited to this aspect. Anyone who has visited the Kosova A and Kosova B power plants knows that the sites are designed to only accommodate men (for example, there are no toilets for women).
However, the situation is similar in other countries throughout the world. According to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) report on the participation of women in various sectors, there was relatively little progress regarding the employment of women in the energy and mining sector last year. It is estimated that the general level of participation of women in different positions in this sector stands at 25 percent.
It is often said that not many women have the knowledge required to work in this sector. In the academic year 2017/18, of the 1,741 students enrolled in the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Prishtina, 38 percent were women and 62 percent men; in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, 247 of the 1,187 students — approximately 20 percent — were women.
In government decision-making positions, the energy and mining sector is notably lacking in balanced gender representation; in fact, there is a complete lack of women in decision-making positions in this sector.
The picture is ‘better’ on the boards of public enterprises, operators and regulatory authorities, where out of 28 members there is a woman! (i.e. 3 percent women, and 97 percent men).
Fllanza Beqiri-Hoxha is one of six board members at the Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK), but Trepça’s board, comprising of six members, is made up entirely of men, as are the boards of: the Independent Commission for Mines and Minerals (KPMM), which has five members; the Energy Regulatory Office (ZRRE), with four; the Transmission System Operator and Electricity Market Operator (KOSTT), with four; and the Kosovo Energy Distribution Service (KEDS), with three.
The absence of women in the energy and mining sector shows a gender disbalance in decision-making positions. To encourage young women professionals into the sector, we need a different approach to policy making and we need to change the mentality of people involved in the sector.
Not only do we need to include women in decision-making, we also need to take into account the gender perspective when evaluating the influence of ‘energy poverty’ and pollution that is produced from the use of non-renewable and traditional energy sources. This is not least because high levels of unemployment among women compared to men in Kosovo, and the patriarchal society means that the biggest users of these sources domestically are overwhelmingly women, and domestic energy consumption makes up almost half of all energy consumption in Kosovo.
Women are therefore particularly susceptible to ‘energy poverty’ — a lack of access to modern energy services, where the welfare of citizens is negatively influenced by lack of access to electricity for households and for clean cooking. The term also refers to the usage of polluting burning materials for fulfilling basic living needs.
According to the World Bank in Kosovo, the biggest polluters in Kosovo are the Kosova A and Kosova B power plants, with the burning of coal and wood the next biggest. A 2015 study conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Kosovo 2015 shows that 45 percent of the domestic energy consumption comes from burning wood, and 44 percent uses electrical energy (which is predominantly coal-based and presents a risk to human health). The situation is worse in rural areas, most of which lack access to modern services (for example, electrical energy for lighting of central heating).
The first step we need to make is to reflect on gender considerations in the main document for policymaking in this sector, Kosovo’s Strategy for Energy (2017-2026), the implementation of which requires 3 billion euros. Analyses conducted by local and international institutions have identified a series of challenges faced by the energy and mining sector, including the lack of constant access to electrical energy, old technology in power plants, pollution and the many health issues that arise as a result of it.
The national energy strategy does not include a special chapter — which is very necessary — for educating younger generations regarding this sector. In the University of Prishtina, the master’s and doctorate branches of electrical energetics have been closed, and the bachelor’s branch is at risk of imminent closure due to a shortage of staff.
Is there a place for women in the energy sector?
The international energy industry is currently undergoing unprecedented change, with thousands of new jobs expected to be opened in the coming years. This is also the case in Kosovo. By opening Kosovo’s energy market and starting to implement the 2016 EU-facilitated Energy Community Memorandum of Understanding between the ‘Western Balkan 6’ on strengthening regional cooperation in the energy sector, many new jobs will be opened for specialists in different fields, not only in engineering and mathematics, but also in judicial and political sciences, and public policy positions.
From negotiating energy contracts, to evaluating the strategic influence of new infrastructure, managing renewable energy projects and projects relating to domestic energy efficiency, all these tasks require new workers — and they are not gender specific.
According to the World Bank, in Kosovo almost one-third of the population lives in poverty, whereas the level of unemployment is the highest in Europe. To increase employment levels, decrease poverty and improve quality of life, Kosovo needs a sustainable energy supply and affordable costs.
Mining and the energy sector are considered key sectors for sustainable economic development. Therefore it is absolutely necessary to invest in maintaining the electrical engineering Faculty at the University of Prishtina and to include energy policy in other faculties that deal with social, environmental, political and technological issues (for example, the Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Education).
To address the shortage of women in the energy and mining sector, and to encourage young women professionals into the sector, last year the Association of Women in the Energy Sector was established by professional women working within the sector. This association aims to strengthen the position of women in the energy sector through career development, professional development, inclusion in decision-making and contribution to sustainable economic development in Kosovo. However, the Association cannot achieve change on its own.
It is absolutely necessary to have public policies that not only address the sector’s main challenges, but also to break taboos that describe the energy sector as a technical working environment that is not suitable for women. Furthermore, it is absolutely necessary to implement gender quotas in energy institutions until awareness has been raised that this sector will not have effective policies without the active inclusion of women.
Feature image: Agon Nimani.