Improving livelihood opportunities for women and youth in clean energy in MENA countries

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries have the lowest level of women’s labour force participation in the world, as well as some of the highest levels of youth unemployment. The Economic Research Forum (ERF), a regional network promoting high-quality economic research to develop Arab countries, is conducting research in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia to understand how Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) will adapt to the transition to clean energy and the phasing out of energy subsidies in the region. The project, which runs from 2022 to 2025, examines how the clean energy transition might generate quality livelihood opportunities for women and youth.

Initial findings

Significant progress has been made on this project in the past two years. An initial analysis of gender equality in 6 countries revealed various data gaps and emphasized the importance of both quantitative and qualitative data in understanding the challenges of adopting clean energy and its impact on women and youth. The report highlighted the lack of gender- and age-specific data on clean energy MSMEs, underscoring the need for gender-disaggregated data to explore their transition to clean energy. Data is crucial for policy prioritization. In response, the ERF is using a mixed research method that combines surveys of MSMEs with interviews and focus groups to  understand key issues and challenges.

Women make up 32% of the formal clean energy workforce globally, but only 7–9% in MENA. Within the clean energy sector, women are overrepresented in human resources and administrative services but underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and renewable energy operations, management, and leadership.

ERF researchers conducted a survey of 1000 MSMEs in Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan, examining the challenges and drivers of clean energy adoption. The results showed that only a small percentage of Egyptian enterprises use clean energy, while Jordan and Morocco had adoption rates of 5% and 4%, respectively. However, 21% of Egyptian enterprises and 37% of Jordanian and Moroccan firms were considering transitioning to sustainable energy.

The study revealed that factors such as firm size, age of owners and management, and education level influenced the adoption of renewable energy. Interestingly, the gender of the business owner and the percentage of female employees did not independently impact clean energy adoption. This underscores the importance of promoting gender equity beyond economic considerations and recognizing the intersectionality of gender with other factors.

However, research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which surveyed over 22,000 organizations worldwide, found that gender diversity can lead to improved economic success. Organizations with 30% women executives have been shown to achieve a net profit margin that is 6% higher than their industry peers. Gender balance not only benefits women but also enhances working conditions, well-being, organizational culture, and productivity for everyone involved.

ERF’s research on women’s involvement in clean energy entrepreneurship in MENA matches global trends. According to the International Energy Agency, only 11% of renewable energy start-up founders are women, compared to 20% in other industries (excluding consumer products). Like their counterparts in other sectors, women in clean energy entrepreneurship face challenges in raising investment capital and lack access to specific skills and training. A 2019 global survey by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that 56% of respondents from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa identified financing as a significant obstacle for women in clean energy entrepreneurship, while 71% highlighted skills and training. In the MENA region, awareness of financial schemes is low, and banks are often reluctant to provide loans to businesses owned by women and youth.

Entrepreneurship is especially important in the MENA context, where job scarcity is identified as the major reason for starting a business. The MENA region has some of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the world, combined with the lowest rate of women’s labour force participation at 21%. Social norms, prejudices, and misperceptions (for example, that in times of high unemployment, men should be given jobs first and women should be let go first) interact to compound the challenges women face in seeking employment.

Addressing inequalities

Addressing the persistent inequalities in women’s access to capital and financing requires tackling root causes, including wage inequity and women’s marginalization in land and property ownership. There are three principal means of acquiring land and property everywhere in the world: inheritance, purchase in the market, and state distribution. Enforcing wage equity and granting women equal and independent land and property rights can reduce these inequities. However, the urgency of the climate crisis and the slow pace of wage and land reform necessitate additional measures to improve women’s capital access. This may entail providing access to finance without the standard requirements of collateral, to which women and youth have much weaker access. Private climate finance channelled as guarantees can reduce risks for women- and youth-run businesses, especially in places with limited access to finance and little credit servicing history.

Women and girls in the MENA region excel in education compared to men and boys, often demonstrating a greater inclination towards pursuing STEM and Technical and Vocational education. According to UNESCO, several countries in the MENA region have a proportion of women STEM graduates above 50%. UNESCO also reports that the percentage of female graduates in STEM fields in Morocco rose from 39% to 49% between 2010-11 and 2020-21. There are big generational differences in women’s accomplishments in technical fields in the MENA region. For example, Tunisian women between the ages of 20 and 24 possess ICT skills four times more advanced than those of older women. Despite obstacles such as discrepancies in rural areas, girls routinely surpass boys in academic achievement at every level of education. Therefore, it is crucial to shift the focus from simply recruiting women into STEM fields to ensuring that they obtain appropriate employment opportunities aligned with their degrees.

Although government, corporate, and non-profit initiatives have increased women’s employment and entrepreneurship in the MENA clean energy sector, gender gaps persist. Women face “sticky floors” and “glass ceilings” in their careers due to cultural conventions, social biases, and structural constraints such as the gendered division of labour within families and higher societal value awarded to paid work over unpaid caregiving. ERF research highlights women’s prospects and challenges in renewable energy, offering policy recommendations to level the playing field.

IRENA predicts there will be 38 million clean energy jobs by 2030 and 43 million by 2050 under a 1.5°C global trajectory. Most of these jobs will be associated with solar, wind, biomass, small-scale hydropower, green hydrogen, and geothermal energy. Clean energy skills are presently in short supply worldwide, including in MENA. The global transition to sustainable energy presents a unique and opportune moment to create decent livelihoods for women and youth in the MENA region.

Call for proposals: ANDE

ANDE is launching a new initiative to investigate the significant challenges that women face in clean energy entrepreneurship, through applied research. They will fund actionable research that aims to build the evidence base on the barriers that women face in clean energy entrepreneurship, with a regional focus on Latin America, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa.  

The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), will fund six research projects on women in the clean energy sector. Lead organisations or individuals must be based in Latin America, the Caribbean, or Sub-Saharan Africa, and the research project should propose to conduct research in these regions.  


  • Call for proposal: Improving outcomes for women-led clean energy enterprises through applied research. 
  • Submission deadline: 31 May 2024 
  • Budget: Up to USD $60,000, depending on the scope of the proposal submitted.
  • Research Topic: ANDE is looking for applied research to uncover ways to support women entrepreneurs, employees and consumers in the clean energy sector. The research questions that ANDE is interested in, but not limited to, include: 
    1. What practices can entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) adopt to make their programs more gender inclusive for women entrepreneurs and employees in clean energy (e.g. women mentors, childcare) and encourage founders to employ more women and pay equal wages?
    2. Which types of ESOs (e.g., sector-specific vs. sector-agnostic ESOs) support women entrepreneurs more effectively and promote workforce gender equality in the clean energy sector?
    3. What are interventions that can be implemented and scaled to reduce the gender bias of investors and employers in the renewable energy sector?
    4. What are the examples of businesses that scaled and served women consumers in renewable energy, and what are their success factors (e.g. how did they develop their service/product, how did they identify and reach out to their consumer base)?
    5. Do women business owners champion the rights and serve the need of women employees and consumers better than their counterpart men?


Apply now


Only proposals from individuals, teams and/or organisations based in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean will be considered. 

ANDE is one of 12 projects working with the Clean Energy for Development initiative. Their project seeks to reduce barriers and improve pathways to growth for women-led enterprises in clean energy, with a particular focus on gender-smart capital mobilisation towards locally relevant clean energy solutions. 

Visit the ANDE website for more details and information about this call for proposals. 

Call for proposals: 2X Global

2X Global is launching an innovative research project seeking to improve the outcomes for women-led clean energy enterprises through applied research. This applied research will focus on the regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia Pacific.

2X Global and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) will lead independent research projects aligned with the theme of supporting women in the clean energy sector. The ensuing project description and call for proposals focus on the particular research stream led by 2X Global. 3 regional research leads from and based in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, and/or Asia-Pacific will be selected for an innovative applied research project.


  • Call for proposal: Improving outcomes for women-led clean energy enterprises through applied research.
  • Submission deadline: 10 March 2024
  • Budget: Between USD $50,000 and $70,000, depending on the scope of the proposal submitted.
  • Objectives:
    1. Generate knowledge on locally relevant climate- and gender-smart innovative finance solutions developed by local emerging fund managers enabling a gender-equitable low-carbon energy transition.
    2. Create a springboard of evidence and findings to attract further capital towards locally relevant clean energy solutions with a credible gender lens led by local fund managers. This evidence base on the business and impact case seeks to unlock more capital from a broad spectrum of investors and capital providers along the risk-return spectrum.
    3. Support local emerging fund managers to generate novel impact measurement insights at a compelling gender- and climate nexus.
    4. These academically rigorous and practitioner-relevant knowledge outputs will be disseminated in various venues and platforms to inform policy and practice.


Apply now


Only proposals from individuals, teams and/or organisations from and based in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and/or Asia-Pacific will be considered.

2X Global, in collaboration with ANDE, is one of the 12 projects working with the Clean Energy for Development initiative. Their project seeks to reduce barriers and improve pathways to growth for women-led enterprises in clean energy, with a particular focus on gender-smart capital mobilisation towards locally relevant clean energy solutions.

Visit the 2X Global website for more details and information about this call for proposals.

Why should we care about gender equity and youth inclusion in clean energy?

Concerns about environmental sustainability and fossil fuel insecurity have motivated countries around the world to transition to clean energy sources such as solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal energy, and small-scale hydro.  

Since many communities, particularly in developing countries and emerging economies, lack adequate access to energy for their domestic and livelihood needs, the global shift to clean energy is also reducing energy poverty and improving energy access in remote and rural communities, where 84% of the world’s poorest people live 

Gender equity and youth inclusion must be part of clean energy transition 

The transition to clean energy is also creating new employment opportunities all over the world. Producing and distributing clean energy is more labour-intensive than for fossil fuels, which tend to be more capital-intensive. Initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Solar Sister, Barefoot College, Hivos, Kopernik, Grameen Shakti, and Project Gaia, have reached millions of low-income people in African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Central and South American countries. These are positive developments both from environmental and economic perspectives. However, a gender equity analysis of clean energy technologies and the ways in which they are being deployed reveal at least two stark blind spots.  

Women are known to have weaker access to new technologies almost everywhere in the world, so there are unequal access issues inherent in the transition to clean energy. It is also well established that 75% of the world’s poorest people are women, youth, and children, and that women are already very inequitably employed worldwide in the clean energy sector.  

Globally, women currently represent 32% of the clean energy workforce – a much higher share than women in the conventional oil and gas sector (22%) – but well below their 48% participation in the overall economy. At 28%, women are particularly underrepresented in the clean energy sector in jobs that require science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) training, compared to 35% in non-STEM technical jobs, and 45% in administrative positions. This is both a problem and an opportunity because the global shift to clean energy is creating demand for a growing array of technical, administrative, economic, policy, legal, business and entrepreneurial skills, and acute labour and skill shortages, are being reported in the clean energy sector all over the world 

To enable a sustainable global transition to clean energy, the sector must engage the skills and talents of women and youth since they constitute well over half of the global human population. There are both instrumental reasons of meeting labour requirements and intrinsic reasons of equity and fairness for enabling larger numbers of women and youth to access employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the clean energy sector. 

The clean energy sector directly or indirectly employed nearly 12.7 million people worldwide in 2021. This is a 5.8% increase from the 12 million employed in 2020, and employment in the sector is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the future. If gender equity and youth inclusion are not addressed proactively and systematically, the clean transition may do what the green revolution did in the 1970s: boost economic productivity by putting capital and technology in the hands of wealthier farmers, who are predominantly men, while marginalising women in the agricultural sector and making them more invisible and vulnerable to poverty than they already were.  

Inequities in clean energy transition could hinder achieving the SDGs 

Without appropriately targeted training, education, apprenticeships, employment placement, entrepreneurship opportunities, financial tools, and supportive social policies, the global transition to clean energy may exacerbate existing inequities for women and youth and hinder the achievement of global poverty alleviation and human development goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Gender equality was framed as a standalone SDG (SDG 5) because it is a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.  

When the SDGs were framed in 2015, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, modern energy for all was also deemed an objective important enough to warrant a standalone SDG (SDG 7). Since women constitute more than 50% of the world’s population, and since they are also presently underrepresented in the clean energy sector, there is growing recognition that universal clean energy access is unlikely to be achieved by 2030 without gender equality, and, conversely, that gender equality is unlikely to be achieved without equitable global access to sustainable energy.  

Improving gender and youth equity in clean energy transition 

Despite clear evidence of the synergies and interdependencies between SDG5 and SDG7, empirical data on the participation of women and youth in the clean energy sector remains weak and scattered, and so do policy interventions designed to optimise their participation. This is precisely what Canada’s ‘International Development Research Centre’ (IDRC) is trying to improve through the ‘Clean Energy for Development’ initiative.  

By providing financial resources, research and policy advice, and training to researchers in developing countries, this initiative aims to contribute toward a transformation of the energy sector, from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption to clean energy sources, while simultaneously creating more economic opportunities for women and youth. The programme also aims to encourage knowledge sharing with policymakers, researchers, and local communities to motivate the formulation of context-specific programmes and policies to ensure that access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the clean energy sector do not remain out of reach for low-income groups in general, and women and youth in particular.

Understanding clean energy and development synergy is key to SDGs

Universal access to clean and affordable energy by 2030 is pivotal to sustainable development goals (SDGs), both in its own right and as a critical means of achieving other SDGs targets including decent work and economic development. With the first Global Stocktake at COP28 ongoing, reducing carbon emissions remains vital to mitigate the climate crisis.

Recent reports, however, show that progress in meeting SDGs targets is in peril or even going into reverse. Likewise, numerous national plans towards net-zero transition fall short of requirements. Many of these appear to be faltering for multiple reasons, including spiralling energy prices precipitated by global conflicts and the Covid-19 pandemic. Amidst all this is the fact that the synergy between clean energy and sustainable development is less understood to guide policy and action.

The links between clean energy and sustainable development need better understanding

Despite a recent dip, global clean energy production shows unprecedented growth, and generation cost is falling, notably for solar photovoltaic and wind plants. But contribution to clean energy capacity additions, and the benefits thereof, bypass significant regions, countries, and communities most in need. UN sources show that, worldwide, 675 million people – many of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa, a region rich in renewable resources – have little or no access to electricity. These people contribute little to the climate crisis but bear the brunt of it. The UN underlines that, if the current trend is to continue, by 2030, there will be many more millions of people without access to electricity and who will rely on unstainable resources such as biomass energy and carbon fuels. Finding mechanisms for increasing investment in clean energy generation and access remain central to clean energy generation and transition.

Clean energy and sustainable development are intertwined; delivering improved food and nutrition, health and education outcomes, industrialisation, and local economic growth all. require energy. However, there is a growing concern that there is little coherent – and authoritative – knowledge on the synergy between clean energy and sustainable development. Technological solutions (such as solar photovoltaic or energy storage systems) may be increasingly available but little is known as to who gains from these technologies, nor when and where institutions and energy systems (centralised grid or distributed systems) serve those most in need. Women, young entrepreneurs, and informal businesses, as well as micro, small, and medium size enterprises (MSMEs) tend to be creators of most jobs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) but are also the most economically vulnerable. Research into the clean energy and sustainable development nexus is a long-overdue and critical topic.

New research on clean energy for development

Appreciating this knowledge gap, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) commissioned a ‘Clean Energy for Development’ programme. It initially supported five projects, with more to follow, which collectively seek to understand how clean energy transition contributes to sustainable development, energy equity and security, decent job creation and economic development.

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is providing cohort-level learning and engagement support to the programme’s research teams to help them synthesise knowledge for global and regional audiences. We will promote the latest outputs, learning and recommendation from their emerging body of evidence throughout the programme.

The initial five projects are in 15 LMICs, across four continental and sub-continental regions. They draw from a range of perspectives, including political economy analysis and energy transition, to generate significant global knowledge about the synergy between clean energy and sustainable development. They explore a wide range of questions, including:

  • who gains, and who loses, from the clean energy transition?
  • when, where and how do institutions and different energy systems generate affordable and accessible energy to marginal communities?

The goal is to identify the root causes of barriers to and opportunities for clean energy transition and sustainable development. The projects involve those most impacted by the research, particularly women and youth, to support their voices and agency in policy processes.

The Clean Energy for Development programme encourages collaborative partnerships within and between the project stakeholders foster the pathways to impact. Evidence and learning are crucial to clean energy transition in an equitable and just way.