Rafea Um Gomar Becomes The 1st Female Solar Engineer In Jordan


As women in the western world today, we can often take our freedoms for granted. We know they were hard fought for, but that was so long ago it’s no wonder there are movements dedicated to demolishing the work of feminism right now. But what’s important to remember is that our freedom was won at a cost, and now we have a duty to make sure we do all that we can to pass it on to others.

There are countless women across the world in certain countries where freedom is a far off distant fantasy. Countries where they are not seen as equal, where they are subject to poverty, assault, abuse, oppression and much much worse. This is where modern day feminism and human rights initiatives come in; to empower these women to rise up and live beyond what they have been subjected to.

A woman by the name of Rafea Um Gomar has done just this, thanks to an engineering program she was lucky enough to take part in. Rafea is from Jordan, she is married with 4 kids, and she is expected by her culture to take care of the kids and family and stay at home. But she has other plans. She wants to be educated, not so that she can run away, but to challenge traditional gender roles, and help her own community with skills that she can learn.

The 30 year old was one of the subjects of a documentary called ‘Solar Mamas‘ which followed her journey from being just another woman from her poor Bedouin community, to becoming the first female solar engineer in all of Jordan.

How did she manage this? It wasn’t easy. She was selected by the Jordan’s Ministry of Environment to attend a program in India called the Barefoot College, which trains poor people from all over the world to become solar engineers. Some of these women have never even left their own villages before, and many are illiterate. Yet after they leave this course, they are empowered with the skills to make their communities self-reliant and sustainable.


Rafea initially got the blessing of her family to go, but halfway during the course her husband insisted she come home. In the end she was allowed to go back and complete the course, and today is a beacon of hope to many other women in her village. She has set up 80 solar installations along with co-engineer Sahia Um Badr, providing electricity to her village, and is also an elected leader, a role model and a teacher in her community.

Recently elected as the first female member of her municipal council in Manshiat Al-Ghayath, an isolated area about 260 kilometers from the capital city of Amman.

“I live in a rather conservative village, where the culture doesn’t allow women to be outside their houses, and where a woman’s existence is confined only to her home and to take care of the children. [There were major obstacles] to break this chain and the social barriers, to become independent and create a regular source of income for me and my girls,” she told UN Women.

One of the biggest influences on Rafea was her father, a high-ranking tribal leader who, despite the culture they lived in, encouraged her independent spirit. Rafea was married at the age of 15 but it only lasted a year. When she married her second husband, she was his third wife, something that is common in Jordan. And while she says women aren’t necessarily seen as less important in the community, their role is supposed to be in the home, not the workforce.

“In a rural Bedouin community, women don’t have any significant, upfront role to play. So imagine, now I can say that I am the very first female solar engineer in Jordan, which in my community is even difficult for a man to say. Indeed, not even men can aspire to achieve such an education.”

“I was capable of breaking the social taboo according to which women must stay home. I demonstrated to the community that women can go out to get trained and then train other women to produce and sell their products. This experience pushed me to do more, so I decided to run for the municipal elections in my village and I won, becoming the first woman member in the municipal council of my community.”

Her passion for education and instilling this message in her own children and girls in her community is something she considers part of her mission, along with being a trailblazing woman.

Take a look at the video below from the Barefoot College showing not just Rafea, but other people from around the world to come and learn skills that will change their lives forever:

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