Cairo, Egypt, 19 January 2023 ‒ There is a growing need for females to join the ranks of air- conditioning and refrigeration (RAC) technicians. A training workshop recently organized by the Government of Egypt and the United Nations OzonAction Compliance Assistance Programme (CAP) better prepared women for advancement in the field and revealed the unique challenges women face.

Over the next three decades, use of air conditioners and refrigerating systems is set to soar globally, driven by population growth, expanding middle class, boom in international trade of perishable commodities, and demand from the life science and pharma industries. This growth will spur a corresponding need for qualified technicians who can install and service systems so they run efficiently and meet environmental regulations. Attracting more women is one of the steps the sector is taking to meet its workforce challenge.

The workshop, held in Cairo, 17 to 19 January with support from the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund, provided an interactive forum for female RAC technicians from countries in the Anglophone Africa Network to learn and network in support of gender mainstreaming. The women exchanged experiences, developed skills, shared ideas, and in general built their capacities to enable transitioning towards low-GWP technologies. With an objective of increasing participation of women in the field and supporting equal opportunities for men and women, the workshop aimed to promote access to economic resources and to empower women and girls at all levels.

“The refrigeration and air-conditioning sector has become a vital and essential issue for all civilized nations which are working on the sustainable economic development and prosperity of its people,” said Engineer Ayman El- Refaie, Head of the Carbon Credits Department, Egyptian Environment Affairs Agency, when he opened the workshop. “Air conditioning is not a luxurious requirement anymore.”

At the Cairo workshop, eighteen enthusiastic female technicians identified similar obstacles to their entry to and rise in the RAC sector:

  • Family members not believing that the RAC sector is suitable for females.
  •  A lack of equal opportunities for women and men, leading to the lack of employment for qualified female technicians and discouraging other women to pursue paths in the field.
  • Girls facing culture pressure in many countries that discourage them from developing the skills needed to join the technology field.
  • Some employers believing that women are fragile, and in the event that they became pregnant would find it difficult to carry out laborious tasks hence a need to employ an assistant increasing cost.

In general, the women believed they had to perform three times better than men to receive comparable recognition.

OzonAction is committed to achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 which concerns gender equality and empowering women and girls. It actively promotes the opportunities available to women in its training and capacity-building programmes, encouraging women already in the RAC sector and promoting opportunities to those considering the variety of interesting and fulfilling careers in this fast-growing sector.

During the workshop’s opening session, James Curlin, Head of OzonAction, UNEP Law Division, said while there had been progress over the last decades with more girls going to school, fewer girls forced into early marriage, more women serving in parliament and in positions of leadership, and laws being reformed to advance gender equality, more is needed. “Many challenges remain, such as discriminatory laws. Social norms remain pervasive,” Curlin said. “Women continue to be under-represented at all levels of political leadership, and 1 in 5 women and girls report experiencing physical or sexual violence.  SDG 5 states that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

In 2019, UNEP OzonAction in partnership with UN Women jointly launched the publication Women in the Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Industry: Personal Experiences and Achievements to raise awareness of the opportunities available to women and recognise their successes. The booklet identifies the challenges faced by women in the industry and presents the inspirig stories of women who met these challenges and which serve as motivating experiences for others.

Refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps also are essential for the success of many of the other SDGs. Besides being an avenue for gender equality, it also positively impacts, directly or indirectly, goals ranging from food security to public health, quality of life, technological development, environmental protection notably including climate action, and education and employment. Similarly, refrigeration and air conditioning are integral parts of the Montreal Protocol.

The training workshop presented a varied agenda consisting of presentations, discussions, practical demonstrations and working groups as well as interactive exercises that considered overall challenges in the region and good practices in the RAC sector.

The female RAC technicians each had the opportunity to present the work they do in their respective countries and comment on the challenges they face as women in a field mainly composed of men. Have they experienced gender bias in employment practices? Have they suffered from a lack of employment opportunities? Have they experienced prejudice and discrimination by business owners? Have they been victims of sexual harassment? Or been deprived of recognition of their accomplishments?  The women shared how each of them addressed roadblocks such as these in their career development.

The workshop also identified barriers that both male and female technicians encounter

•    Lack of proper professional recovery and reclaiming centers to recycle used refrigerants.
•    Use of low-quality and inappropriate tools which compromises performance and safety.
•    Technicians who do not adopt recommended practices no matter how much training is offered to them.
•    Low compensation.
•    No apprenticeship.

But the workshop did not stop at identifying problems. Organizers also focused on solutions.

On the last day, the women received practical hands-on training at the NASSER Secondary Technical Schools for Girls where they learned about the latest refrigeration and air-conditioning technology developments. Also, speakers presented updates on contributions being made by UNEP and industry groups. For instance, all Montreal Protocol projects have a gender dimension, and those resources can be used to organize meetings and training workshops for female technicians at the national level. OzonAction has produced a series of gender mainstreaming tools to assist countries to advance gender mainstreaming in their Montreal Protocol activities, including in the HVACR sector. Global and regional HVACR associations, such as ASHRAE and U-3ARC, are addressing the issue. Further, the International Network of Women in Cooling (INWIC) initiative will help with networking and capacity building for women in the sector.

The workshop was part of the 2023 work plan of UNEP OzonAction CAP to support countries in implementing their Montreal Protocol commitments and which includes promoting UN gender mainstreaming objectives.

The eighteen women are role models for Africa who are inspiring change and the acceptance of female technicians. They are breaking down of gender barriers not only in the RAC sector but in other sectors as well. The women left Cairo having made new connections and empowering one another, demonstrating to themselves and others that there is not only room in the RAC for females, there are opportunities for them to thrive.

For more information:

Patrick Salifu
Montreal Protocol Regional Coordinator, Anglophone Africa
UNEP OzonAction

Florence Asher
Programme Management Officer, Anglophone Africa
UNEP OzonAction

Sonja Wagner
Programme Management Officer, Gender Focal Point
UNEP OzonAction

Image and article originally posted by UNEP OzonAction. See the article here.