MDG 3 – Gender: Women Essential For Clean Cooking Adoption
As we reflect on the progress of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – only 500 days from the target date- it is clear that MDG 3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, is essential for scaling up and growing the clean cookstoves and fuel sector. Millions of women and girls are living in energy poverty, risking their lives to cook food for their families. Energy poverty means that women and girls, who are the primary managers of household energy, do not have access to basic electricity or clean cooking technology. They rely on solid fuels burnt in open fires and traditional cookstoves to provide meals for their families. And they often endure incredible hardships to do so – women can spend up to 4 hours per day – or 60 days a year – collecting firewood, or they are forced to spend their hard-earned income on fuel. Cooking over open fires and traditional cookstoves also exposes them to deadly smoke that kills 4 million people every year. More efficient and cleaner stoves can prevent these deaths and reduce by half the time and/or income spent on fuel, allowing women the time and income needed to pursue opportunities of their choice. It’s been estimated that with a 30% increase in fuel efficiency in an improved cookstove, a family purchasing fuel could save enough money to send two children to school.
Women are crucial partners in the widespread adoption of clean cooking solutions because of their central responsibility for cooking and managing household energy. Women have a role to play in every segment of the clean cooking value chain, and their involvement can increase project effectiveness and help scale adoption of products and services, while also enhancing their livelihoods. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves recognizes the central role women play in this sector, and consequently developed Scaling Adoption of Clean Cooking Solutions Through Women’s Empowerment: A Resource Guide to fill a critical gap and to build the capacity of stakeholders to design solutions that include and empower women. The Resource Guide, along with an anticipated Entrepreneur Training Handbook, aims to directly increase the number of women involved in cooking projects – as designers, producers, distributors, promoters, investors, and servicers.
Women are the fastest growing cohort of entrepreneurs and business owners in many developing countries. In fact, women living in developing countries are more likely than those in developed countries to start or run businesses. Women entrepreneurs have tremendous potential to spur market growth; however, they often lack sufficient support or knowledge. Research shows that approximately 860 million women globally lack sufficient education and access to finance and other support to start businesses; this number is expected to rise to 1 billion in the next decade. When women are properly supported, their involvement as market actors can increase access to female consumers and increase sales. Strengthening women’s economic empowerment opportunities not only increases sales, it can have other positive and important impacts as well. Studies show that women reinvest 90 percent of their income into their families and communities, while men reinvest 30 to 40 percent. Ultimately, the implications for economically empowering women can reach far beyond the individual.
Martha Lobulu is one example of a successful female entrepreneur who lives in rural Tanzania and is leading change in her Maasai community, which is far off the electrical grid. Martha only completed primary school before she was married at age 15, and today she is the leader of a cookstove installation team, as well as the chairperson of the Esilalei Women’s Association for a national political party, making her one of the few women serving on the village’s governing committee. As a team leader, Martha not only directs and organizes the women installers in her community, but also travels to other communities in her district to train teams. She was also one of three women elected by colleagues to travel to Western Uganda to participate in a cookstove demonstration for the Batwa people. Martha leads her family, community, and surrounding villages towards cleaner homes and healthier lives, and her income allows her to support herself and her family. Martha has reduced her own wood use by half, saving considerable time on fuel collection.
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. They are the first to feel the impacts of poverty – which is exacerbated by not having access to clean household energy. They are the first to be removed from school if firewood collection needs to be done, walking further and further distances carrying extremely heavy loads when deforestation occurs, and are forced to inhale the thick toxic smoke emitted during cooking with solid fuels. In the Post 2015 development agenda, we must continue and amplify the promotion of access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all through clean cookstoves.