Ashden: It’s time to give women power
The global energy crisis
In the 21st century, providing food for your family shouldn’t mean gambling with their lives. But that’s exactly what more than a third of women around the world are doing when they use wood, coal, charcoal or animal dung for cooking or heating.
The WHO recently reported that 4.3 million people die from the results of indoor air pollution – the majority of it from cooking smoke. That’s more than six times the number of people who die from malaria.
A fifth of the world’s population are also at risk of illness, burns or death because they use kerosene to light their homes after sunset. Kerosene is a major health hazard for two reasons: the toxic smoke it gives off, and the accidental fires that are so easily caused by knocking over kerosene lamps.
Inadequate lighting in the evening means educational opportunities for children are stymied too – it’s hard to do homework by the light of a candle or kerosene lamp.
Make no mistake, this is a global crisis. Yet so few people seem aware of it.
Perhaps it’s because deaths aren’t immediate, and they are harder to attribute – you won’t find ‘inhaling smoke’ on any death certificate – though you will see pneumonia, strokes or lung cancer. There’s also no big event or visible catastrophe to draw the world’s attention or capture imaginations. And children not being able to do their homework at night is not newsworthy.
Why women are worst affected
Lack of access to clean energy is debilitating for women – not just for the obvious reason that women and girls tend to be at home more, so are likely to suffer more from the effects of inhaling cooking and kerosene fumes.
In most countries, women and girls are also the ones responsible for gathering cooking fuel, often trudging for hours every day to collect and carry bundles of wood or other fuels and then spending hours bent over smoky fires or stoves to cook the family meal.