4 ways clean cooking can elevate the status of women and girls
It may surprise you to know that cooking is keeping millions of women from reaching their full potential. Yes, cooking.
In many countries, women and girls spend up to five hours a day cooking and collecting cooking fuel. And the fires they cook with — fueled by charcoal, wood and animal dung — produce clouds of toxic smoke they and their families inhale, leading to over 2 million preventable deaths every year.
But solutions exist that can empower women and help them live their lives to the fullest. Here are four ways clean cooking solutions can elevate the status of women and girls:
Reducing Time Poverty
I used to be busy all the time. Cooking with traditional cookstoves was time-consuming. Now I have time to grow vegetables, which we eat and also sell in the market. Not only am I spending my time more efficiently and breathing better, but also supporting my family.
— Sita, India
Around the world, gender and social norms keep many women at home, burdened with unpaid work. Globally, women spend three times as many hours in unpaid care work as men, the vast majority of which is spent on routine household work such as cooking, cleaning, collecting water and firewood. The resulting time poverty from these daily obligations creates significant financial and opportunity costs that perpetuate poverty among women.
Fortunately, cleaner cookstoves and alternative fuels can significantly reduce the time women spend on unpaid work like meal preparation and fuel collection. With access to cleaner cooking fuels, women like Sita, can focus on school or business opportunities to support themselves and their families.
Enhancing Women’s Entrepreneurship
I believe I can be successful with this stove business building on what I learned from the empowerment training. I gained self-confidence from public speaking, business dealings with new people, and have learned how to respond to difficult questions since joining the program.
— Chan, Myanmar
Women can be economically empowered through their engagement in the clean cooking sector. When women enter the marketplace as entrepreneurs and are adequately supported, they have immense potential to spur economic growth. In fact, a study in Kenya found that women cookstove entrepreneurs sold three times as many cookstoves as their male peers when given the same level of training and support.
The Alliance’s Women’s Empowerment Fund (WEF) is designed to scale effective, gender-informed business models that empower women energy entrepreneurs. Through a WEF grant given to Mercy Corps Myanmar, Chan Ei Han Thar received entrepreneurship training that helped her sell 577 stoves. When asked what made her strategy successful, she explained how she developed a set of marketing messages that focused on the tangible benefits of the efficient stoves, such as the cost, time, and energy savings. Chan has put her income towards her children’s education, household expenses, and family’s savings.
Developing policies and interventions with a gender lens
We can’t buy time, but we can buy LPG and save time
The impact of cooking over open fires using solid fuels disproportionately affects the lives of women and girls, so clean cooking initiatives must be developed through a gender lens. Too often, policies and initiatives fail to meet their goals because they are not designed with the end user in mind — women. Women are often the producers, users, and sales agents of clean cooking solutions, so policies and interventions must be designed through a gendered lens to be successful.
The PMUY program in India put women’s health and wellbeing at the center of their program. By increasing access to clean fuel for cooking, women preserve their health and wellbeing by limiting their exposure to toxic smoke, and avoiding unsafe areas while collecting firewood.
Improving livelihoods for refugees
As a woman and as a refugee, I believe that you should get light and cooking fuel. If we get light and fuel for cooking, we can work more, study more and enjoy our time together more. And if we can do all that, I believe we will be able to do anything.
Women like Halima, a refugee who was forced to flee her home in Somalia, often have to leave everything behind and start over in dire conditions. This includes lack of access to electricity and reliable cooking fuel. Approximately 80% of displaced people living in camps rely on biomass fuels, such as firewood and charcoal, for cooking. When women and girls leave their camp to collect firewood for cooking, they are at risk of being attacked and beaten.
Through its Humanitarian Clean Cooking Fund, the Alliance is supporting two projects that aim, among other objectives, to improve the livelihoods of refugee women and girls. In Rwanda, social enterprise Inyenyeri is collaborating with UNHCR to introduce the Mimi Moto stove and biomass fuel pellets into Kigeme refugee camp. In Ethiopia, Project Gaia is working with UNHCR and the Ethiopian government to set up refugee-run enterprises for ethanol and charcoal briquette stoves and fuel for in the Assosa refugee camps. Use of improved stoves and fuel in both projects will reduce the time that women must spend cooking food and gathering fuel, giving them the opportunity to pursue other activities. Women in both projects will be employed as stove sellers and manufacturers, increasing their household income and providing them with business skills that they can apply to other endeavors.
Access to clean cookstoves and fuels impacts women in the most critical areas of their lives — the areas that are crucial for living a healthy, safe, and empowered life. This International Women’s Day, let’s remember the ways clean cooking can elevate millions of women and girls around the world.
The Alliance is supporting the most effective gender-informed business models that increase adoption of clean cooking solutions, as well as maximize impact for women and girls. The Alliance also provides targeted gender capacity building, training, and tools to help partners address gender issues and integrate women in the clean cooking sector. Programs like these, as well as the US State Department’s wPOWER initiative and ENERGIA’s Women’s Economic Empowerment program are critical to scaling the sector and achieving maximum impacts for women and girls.