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Ghada Krayem
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The woman putting solar panels on Gaza rooftops

Ramping up renewables is one of the main topics on the agenda at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27). Ghada Krayem, a solar energy technician from the Palestinian territories, is showing how women can advance the energy transition and overcome social barriers in the process.

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: Olivia Cuthbert

A lot of people told 22-year-old Ghada Krayem that she couldn’t be a solar energy technician, but one voice in particular stood out. ‘It was during training and a male colleague was trying to shut me down, saying that as a woman you cannot succeed in this profession, your place is at home.’

Ghada ignored him and other naysayers and continued focusing on the job at hand –installing a solar photovoltaic system on a rooftop in the Gaza Strip. She was determined to prove these sceptics wrong and inspire other women to do the same. ‘I’m trying to break down barriers so more women can work in this field,’ she says.

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Ghada was among the first cohort of 27 women to graduate from a vocational training programme supported by GIZ in partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at the Gaza Training Centre in the Palestinian territories. The programme is part of a more wide-ranging approach to improve the lives of people in Gaza, which includes creating training and vocational education opportunities.

Around 2.1 million people live in the crowded coastal enclave, which has one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the world. More than 60 per cent of young people are unable to find work, and Ghada was keen to specialise in a field with good employment opportunities. So, in 2019 she left her business studies course and applied for the programme, which is advancing a series of renewable energy projects.

Studying alongside other young people, around a third of whom were women, Ghada learned how to install, operate and maintain solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, a field that was traditionally reserved for men in Gaza’s patriarchal society. ‘It opened a window for female students to join vocational technical training, something that’s not usually available to women in Gaza,’ says Ghada.

Initially, she had reservations about handling power tools and installing heavy PV systems, but she soon found the practical element of the course was her favourite part. ‘We had brand new labs with the most modern equipment on the Gaza Strip. I especially enjoyed field visits to monitor existing panels or scope out new locations for systems to be installed,’ she says.

Battling Gaza’s electricity shortage

GIZ arranged three-month internships with companies in the region for course graduates. Ghada subsequently secured a job as a technician working for a private company. She also works as a consultant for GIZ and plans to develop her expertise in the field and work for international organisations around the world one day. But for now, she is focusing on Gaza, where people have to cope with power cuts up to 11 hours a day due to a lack of energy.

‘We face a huge problem with energy shortages in Gaza and PV systems are the most suitable and affordable solution,’ she says, pointing to the region’s sunny climate. ‘There are so many things I can’t do because of these power cuts. I cannot study English at night because there’s no electricity, or charge my devices for work,’ says Ghada.

Frequent power cuts are a dominant feature of life in the Gaza Strip, says Hazem El-Mashharawi, Senior Advisor, Gaza Resilience Project (GRP). ‘This acute power shortage affects all aspects of life for Gazans, from homes and businesses to industrial, academic and health institutions.’

So far, the GRP project has provided more than 1 MW of clean solar power energy, serving 37 public facilities, including health care centres, vocational schools, water wells, drinking water desalination plants, road intersections and farms.

The transition to renewable energy is slowly gaining momentum, and solar and PV panels are becoming a common sight on rooftops around Gaza. During the pandemic, panels were installed on hospitals to ensure that vaccines could be stored at the correct temperature. In disadvantaged areas, they are used to power street lighting at night, creating a safer environment, particularly for women.

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Getting women excited about technical professions

Ghada’s mission to inspire other women, including her six sisters, received a substantial boost when she won the European Training Foundation’s (ETF) Green Skills Award in 2021. Her passion and enthusiasm make a great impression and are having a ripple effect. ‘Her outstanding communication and advocacy skills brought Ghada global attention as a pioneering young woman defying traditional trends and insisting to advance towards a green career path,’ says Nadim Mulhem, Team Leader, GRP.

Ghada views herself as part of a movement. Speaking for all the women graduates of the programme, she added: ‘Now we have proven our abilities and shown them our skills. This makes society look at us differently and accept us in technical fields.’ As for the man who told her she couldn’t be a PV technician, she couldn’t resist forwarding him the story about her award on Facebook. ‘He was pretty shocked,’ she laughs.

September 2022