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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Arwa Aburawa

Originally published on Green Prophet, March 16, 2011


Green Prophet reporter Arwa speaks to Rafi’a Abdul Hamid, a woman from the deserts of Jordan who has been trained as a solar engineer to help bring clean electricity to her poor village

For many living in the harsh and desolate deserts of south Jordan, life without electricity is the norm. Either the infrastructure which provides electricity doesn’t reach them or they simply don’t have the money to afford it. However, all that looks set to change as two women bring to light the advantages of solar energy.

Two Jordanian Bedouin women have recently returned from a six-month course at a unique college in India where they were trained as solar engineers. The two women, who are illiterate and have never been employed, were carefully selected by the elders in the village to attend the course at Barefoot college in India which helps poor rural communities become more sustainable.

“We’ve been taught about solar energy and solar panels and how to generate light,” explains Rafi’a Abdul Hamid, a mother of four who lives in a tent in the deserts of south Jordan. “Hopefully when we return we will be able to teach others and use everything we’ve learnt here in India to improve our village.”

Building Sustainable Bedouin Communities

Many of the Bedouin communities in Jordan which previously lived off their herds, are now highly dependent on government handouts. They usually make up the poorest sector of society and have a very low standard of living. As such the government sees this project as a strategic way to encourage these poor villages to generate their own energy and also become more self-sufficient.

Raouf Dabbas, the senior advisor to the Ministry of Environment in Jordan told Green Prophet: “Providing this green technology to the rural community, whilst it will not have a major impact on reducing climate change, it will have a profound impact on the socio-economic position of the bedouins and it will help improve their standard of living.”

The project is also seen as a stepping stone towards Jordan’s rather ambitious plans to source 20% of its energy mix from sustainable sources by 2020. “This is certainly one step in that direction,” adds Dabbas. “Jordan currently imports 98% of its oil and energy from the outside and at a time when crude oil prices are unstable, Jordan must actively look for sustainable forms of energy.”

Realising the Potential of Renewable Energy

As such, this project is not only about training women to help bring solar power to poor and remote villages but its also about demonstrating that renewable energy can improve people’s daily lives and also cut back emissions. Sponsers are required to help pay for the initial equipment setup but after that it the project will be able to sustain itself through the revenues it generates though excess electricity.

Barefoot college launched the solar power course for women in 2005 and already more than 150 grandmothers from 28 countries have been trained. Over 10,000 homes in 100 villages have been solar electrified which has saved 1.5 million litres of kerosene from polluting the atmosphere. With so much success already you can’t help but feel confident that change is also on the way for the sleepy bedouin villages of south Jordan.

As Rafi’a insists, “I have no doubt that we are going to achieve a lot- I’m hoping that my life and that of my village will change forever.”

:: Image via Barefoot College. The College trains poor, rural women to become Barefoot Solar Engineers who solar electrify their own communities. Barefoot Solar Engineers from 32 countries have been trained by the College since 2004.



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