International Women’s Day A Reminder To Increase SAFE Access to Energy for Girls and Women
On this International Women’s Day, it is important to keep in mind the millions of girls and women living in energy poverty, risking their lives to cook food for their families every day. Around the world, they work long arduous hours to secure the fuel needed by their households and to cook their families’ meals. In humanitarian settings, they often endure even more appalling hardships – they are forced to leave the relative safety of camps to collect firewood in the surrounding areas, increasing their vulnerability to the risk of gender-based and physical violence. Some women have reported walking all day (8 hours) and even sleeping over night at the fuel collection area. Additionally, while cooking women are exposed to deadly smoke that kills 4 million people every year and contributes to a range of acute and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as cataracts and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 45.2 million people worldwide forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and natural disasters. While food is often provided to internally displaced people (IDP) and refugees, cookstoves and fuels are rarely provided and the food often needs to be cooked before consumed – staples like rice and beans. Without access to adequate cooking fuel, women may undercook their food, be forced to skip meals, and/or trade food rations for fuel.
Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) is a global initiative to increase safe access to energy in humanitarian contexts. The many challenges associated with ensuring adequate access to energy for refugees and IDPs require the coordination of different humanitarian responders and often span several sectors. Because of this, energy, including cooking fuel, is rarely part of the individual mandates of agencies and NGOs working with refugees and IDPs.
SAFE provides a multi-sectoral approach to address these challenges which focuses on eight sectors:
- camp coordination and management
- emergency shelter
- environment and natural resource management
- food and nutrition
- education and communications
- development and food security
All of these sectors are impacted by access to energy and cooking fuel. SAFE began through the creation of the UN SAFE task force, which brought together a variety of partners to develop a framework for action and tools to assist in implementation. This multi-sectoral approach addresses access to energy through a variety of interventions, including creating safe and sustainable livelihoods, providing culturally-appropriate improved cookstoves and alternative fuels, conducting gender-based violence sensitization activities, and implementing environmental protection activities.
The UN SAFE Task Force has become the SAFE Reference Group, of which the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, UNHCR, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Women’s Refugee Commission, World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are all members.
The Alliance prioritizes increasing access to cooking energy for women and girls living in humanitarian settings. Together with our partners, we are developing an online SAFE knowledge hub to facilitate sharing of best practices, conducting SAFE trainings for implementers, creating and distributing SAFE tools, commissioning research to understand the most effective and culturally-appropriate technologies and approaches, conducting advocacy to raise awareness about these critical issues, and more.
By ensuring that humanitarian efforts are well-connected to the broader market-based approach in the clean cooking sector, the Alliance will help to ensure that humanitarian implementers are distributing the most appropriate and innovative technologies, conducting effective monitoring and evaluation of projects, and sharing their learnings among their peers and with the world.
Many gains have been made over the past 20 years for women and girls, but they remain on the frontlines – the first responders to some of life’s most difficult and dangerous moments. This is especially true for displaced women and girls. They are the first to feel the impacts of natural disasters, conflict, and poverty – all of which is exacerbated by not having access to household energy. They are the first to be removed from school if firewood collection needs to be done, who walk further and further distances carrying extremely heavy loads when deforestation occurs, and are forced to inhale the thick toxic smoke emitted during cooking.
Women and girls face these challenges, but they are also at the heart of the solution. Women are crucial partners in the widespread adoption of clean cooking solutions because of their central responsibility for cooking and managing household energy. Fully utilizing women’s expertise and entrepreneurial spirit can release untapped potential and lead to new approaches to increase access to these technologies.
Today, let’s take a moment to remember the sacrifices that women make to nourish their families. Let’s all continue to share their stories to ensure leaders and humanitarians all over the world understand the urgent energy issues that need to be addressed in order for refugee women and girls to stay safe and healthy.
To get involved in these issues or learn more about the Alliance’s work and the SAFE initiative, please visit www.cleancookstoves.org. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @cookstoves; #cookstoves; #SAFEstrategy.