Perspectives | Gender Equality

The intersection of gender equality and green energy

Women are spearheading Kosovo's transition to renewable energy.

Now, more than ever, our planet faces the imminent threat of climate change. While we often discuss the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, we overlook the pressing need for a global workforce transformation: a journey toward a greener economy where women and men worldwide are empowered with the necessary skills and knowledge. This effort isn’t just about acquiring new skills; it’s about ensuring fairness and inclusivity. 

Kosovo is no exception. Women and their invaluable contributions have often been overlooked and overshadowed in this male-dominated industry. But women’s stories deserve to be heard, celebrated, and shared loudly. 

Gender dynamics in the renewable energy sector

Globally, women make up only 32% of the global renewable energy sector workforce. There is also a gap in leadership, with few women in senior positions. The Kosovo Agency for Statistics’ (KAS) 2021 survey of Kosovo’s labor force indicated that just 9.7% of the nearly 9,000 workers in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply sector were women. 

Research shows that there is a direct relationship between climate change and gender equality. Achieving gender parity in renewable energy can have positive economic and environmental impacts, making it a valuable strategy for combating climate change. 

Nonetheless, Kosovo’s renewable energy sector is still in its infancy and male-dominated. Currently, women own 0.1% of businesses in Kosovo’s electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry. Out of approximately 30 companies registered at the Agency for Business Registration, only one company in the solar industry is owned by a woman. This emphasizes the need for coordinated efforts to support women’s inclusion and leadership in this important and developing sector. Moreover, according to data published by KAS, the gross and net wages in each sector determine that sector’s attractiveness. 

In 2021, the average wage in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply sector was 949 euros gross, or 836 euros net. The salaries in this sector are higher than in any other, even higher than information and communication, which many believe is the sector with the highest paid jobs. This might be due to factors such as the demand for skilled labor, the level of specialization required in the energy sector, or specific market conditions in each industry.

Opportunities and obstacles

Women’s engagement in technical jobs in the renewable energy sector is hampered by gender preconceptions and biases. Opportunities are further restricted by a lack of access to education and training, as well as caring obligations. Women are still discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM — the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics ― by gender stereotypes and biases. Limited access to education and training in renewable energy further hinders women’s career prospects. Gender-inclusive policies are rare in this industry, which as mentioned previously is a male-dominated one, making it difficult for women to manage both work and family obligations. 

Nonetheless, certain initiatives are having a beneficial effect. Credit guarantee windows such as GROW and programs like Women in Energy have provided technical education and financial support to women, providing them with institutional empowerment. Yet in order to remove structural obstacles and advance gender diversity in the renewable energy sector, persistent efforts from the public and private sectors as well as international organizations are required. 

Three women in Kosovo’s green energy transition

Artane Rizvanolli, Minister of Economy, Government of Kosovo

Photo Credit: Ministry of Economy

Under her leadership, the ministry has set an ambitious energy strategy, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32% and increase the shares of renewable energy to 35% in electricity consumption by 2031.

The woman in charge of the energy sector, Artane Rizvanolli, is one of the reasons why better politics and policies around renewable energy and energy efficiency are being promoted and elevated in Kosovo. Previously, Rizvanolli was a researcher and advisor for economic and policy analysis for local and international organizations and taught classes on employment, private sector development and public finances at a university. In 2021, she embraced a new professional challenge when she was appointed as the Minister of Economy, covering energy and mining sectors as well.

Up to date, under her leadership, the ministry has set an ambitious energy strategy, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32% and increase the shares of renewable energy to 35% in electricity consumption by 2031. Several projects are being implemented to achieve these goals, such as constructing a 100MW solar power plant for the state-owned electricity company, Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK), adding at least 50MW of thermal energy to Prishtina’s district heating system and a series of auctions for wind and solar energy. 

Rizvanolli has also set her ministry’s priorities for 2024. These include a 100 MW Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Plant and a 150MW wind farm to generate electricity through an auction to ensure competition and competitive prices. They also include implementation of the Compact Program with MCC, in which 170MW battery capacity will be constructed, facilitating the integration of the newly constructed renewable energy capacities into the network. These actions will contribute to fulfilling the energy strategy’s objectives and result in a more modern and cleaner energy industry in Kosovo. 

According to the Energy Strategy (2022-2031), which was developed under Rizvanolli’s leadership, 9% of energy sector employees were women in 2021. The strategy targets increasing this number to 11% by 2024 and at least 25% by 2031. This is the first gender responsive energy strategy, as it seeks to reduce gender inequalities in the energy sector. While there is still a lot of work to be done to increase the percentage of women in institutions and public enterprises, especially in leadership positions, 40% of appointed members of public enterprises are women as of 2021. This figure was around 10% in 2017. In addition, two of the five members of the board of the Energy Regulatory Office — one of the key institutions of the entire energy sector in our country — are women.

Edona Demaj, Founder and CEO, ECO KOS

Photo Credit: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Before 2018, there were no licensed companies for collecting UCO in Kosovo and this waste was indiscriminately disposed of in sewers, meadows, lakes, rivers and beyond, causing extensive and irreparable damage to nature.

Previously a well-known journalist for the Voice of America and a public relations specialist for development agencies, Demaj switched careers in 2018. “I left my job with an international organization to dedicate myself to an innovative project in the field of circular green economy, directly contributing to the protection of the environment in which we live,” she said. She founded Eco-Kos, currently the only licensed company in Kosovo for the collection of used cooking oil, known as UCO.

UCO accounts for a quarter of all soil and water pollutants. Before 2018, there were no licensed companies for collecting UCO in Kosovo and this waste was indiscriminately disposed of in sewers, meadows, lakes, rivers and beyond, causing extensive and irreparable damage to nature. In founding Eco Kos, Demaj helped fill this void. 

The average fast food restaurant produces almost 5,800kg of UCO annually. In 2023 alone, Demaj’s company collected roughly 661,773kg of UCO — what 114 average restaurants produce in a year — and exported 604,360kg of it. UCO, a harmful byproduct, serves as a raw material for producing renewable energy, specifically biodiesel. Over 2,000 people, including businesses and individuals who collaborated with her, have benefited financially, as Eco Kos buys waste UCO from hotels, restaurants and other producers. 

She has set a commendable example of transforming waste, which was once treated linearly — take, use and discard — into a part of the circular green economy process — take, use, recycle and convert into productive raw materials. 

While she started as the only woman in the company, her company now has nine employees, four of whom are women. She is committed to increasing the number of women working on recycling. She provides mentoring voluntarily to students who want to pursue a career in green energy.

Gentiana Alija, Founder and CEO, Alfa Solar Energy

Photo Credit: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Her commitment to gender equality is manifest in her engineering staff, which is composed entirely of women, setting a powerful example for inclusivity and representation in STEM fields.

Gentiana Alija studied engineering at the “Hasan Prishtina” University of Prishtina, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, where she quickly realized that there was a disproportionately small number of women engineers compared to men. She faced a similar situation when she started interning for a private energy company, in an industry predominantly led by men; engineers, majority men, renewable energy installers, wind and solar, all men. 

This is one of the main reasons why Alija decided to establish her own company in 2021, thus becoming the first woman in the solar field. In 2021, there were a dozen registered companies, whereas in 2023, there were over 25 renewable energy companies registered in Kosovo. However, only one of these companies is led by a woman. 

In three years, Alija’s team has grown to eight people. Her company designs and implements solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that generate electricity for both households and businesses in and outside of Kosovo. By spearheading the design and installation of solar plants across Europe, she has not only facilitated the transition to cleaner energy but also exemplified the potential for sustainable practices in the industry. According to Alija, with over 1MW of solar energy installed, she has reduced CO2 emissions by 306,000kg and minimized dust emissions from coal-fired power plants by 500kg, the equivalent of planting 13 trees per year. 

She currently works with four international companies. Her commitment to gender equality is manifest in her engineering staff, which is composed entirely of women, setting a powerful example for inclusivity and representation in STEM fields. Her company’s efforts have brought tangible benefits to businesses and households, easing the burden of energy costs and contributing to the resilience of communities facing an energy crisis. She is voluntarily providing training for university students in solar planning and execution and is providing internship opportunities to young women who are passionate about pursuing their careers in the energy sector.

The way forward

What lessons can we learn from these trailblazers’ experiences? Is a group of women enough to make a difference in the energy industry? 

The main policy document in the energy sector has set a target of 25% increase in female participation in the sector by 2031. The starting point should be data collection. Gathering information before implementing policies is considered a key basis for effective decision-making. The exact percentage of women working in the energy and adjacent sectors is unknown. 

Gender-disaggregated data will provide policy-makers with valuable insights into the current state of the energy industry and enable them to better understand this sector’s challenges, needs and priorities. This also allows them to make realistic and accurate predictions of intervention success. Effective gender statistics and data collection should be used to support gender participation at all policy levels.

In addition, creating educational possibilities is essential for dismantling gender stereotypes. Encouraging STEM and energy-related programs, providing financial support and setting up mentorship programs are essential measures for giving women more options. We already have a good example set by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. 

The ministry has a program that not only encourages women to study and work in the STEM fields, but also helps dispel gender preconceptions that can discourage women from pursuing a career in the energy industry. Developing gender-inclusive workplace regulations is essential to creating an atmosphere where women prosper. This requires providing extensive parental leave policies, implementing flexible work schedules and guaranteeing equitable pay. 

Such actions make it evident that the renewable energy industry is moving toward appreciating and encouraging the advancement of its female workforce’s careers. In Kosovo, empowering women in the renewable energy industry is crucial for attaining gender equality, fighting climate change and ensuring a sustainable energy future. We must empower their voices and create a future where gender equality and sustainable energy intertwine, fueling progress for generations to come.


Feature Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

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