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Renewable Energy for women

by Ruth Aine - 31 March 2014

Blog-Ren01One of my childhood joys was visiting my grandmother. Every time we visited, we ate and her food was always distinct. It still is. But one thing I loved about it then was the fact that it came laced with a 'firewood' flavor. Now, you must be wondering what kind of a flavour that is, but food cooked with firewood over traditional cooking stones, has that 'firewood flavor to it'. Today though, I would not want her to go through all that. Matter of fact, I don’t appreciate her cooking with firewood anymore. I would rather she used something else like cooking gas, because it is not harmful to her body.

The reality of this though is so instilled that it may not be easy. If your grandmother is as stubborn as mine then we will agree that change is one of those things that is hard to effect. Especially when you are trying to get someone to let go of something that they 'grew up doing'.

My grandmother is one of the many African women who is struggling with ill health and suffering from ailments they know nothing about because they are involved in cooking which is bad for their health. Most respiratory illnesses are caused by air pollution, and originates mainly from inhaling wood smoke. The African woman bears this burden.

Of the one billion people in the world living in poverty, 70% are the women. Gender mainstreaming in the renewable energy sector can therefore bring tangible socio-economic benefits to rural populations. Women and girls, however, spend most of their days performing basic subsistence tasks, including the time-consuming and physically draining task of collecting biomass fuels, which constrain them from accessing decent wage employment. In the end they are victims of the energy divide.

There is still a vast dependence on fossil fuels in Africa. Excessive burning of fuels comes with a price on the environment because of the large amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Air pollution arising from using fuelwood unsustainably is still a familiar sight on the continent. This is because the majority of people using it do not have any alternatives.

Cooking from biomass is particularly detrimental to the health of women and children. Of the estimated two million annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution generated by fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal and dung, 85% are women and children, who eventually die from cancer, acute respiratory infections and lung disease [WHO & UNDP, 2009.]

This is why we have got to consider alternatives to help the women and children in our societies.

Women ought to be represented in the boardrooms where policies relating to renewable energy and gender are discussed. Nigeria has Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke as the Minister of Petroleum Resources. Every once in a while she speaks on behalf of the women in her jurisdiction, but more needs to be done. Countries are also taking on the mandate seriously. For example, Uganda established strategies in its Renewable Energy Policy to ensure that women play an important role.  Zambia revised its National Energy Policy with a promise to provide more gender-balanced development in the energy sector. An audit carried out in Botswana revealed that the National Energy Policy was formulated without the involvement of women. The government then moved on to address gender equity, at least in its energy supply policies. [ENERGIA 20O7]. This is proof of progress being made.

Society needs to take care of the women as well. Once in a while when I pass by mama mboga [the lady from whom I buy fresh supplies of vegetables], we have a chat about what is going on. And I realize that we have a lot in common. Telling her to avoid fossil fuels is one conversation we have had, but as with many other issues, there will be an outcry for finances for the transition to happen. Still, the more I buy from her, the more I add to her economic growth. Hopefully one day she will be able to afford cooking gas and a solar lantern, rather than use a kerosene lamp and firewood.

Economic independence is one thing that is crucial for African rural woman. They need to be empowered to earn a living in order to be advocates for a clean and healthy lifestyle. Solar Sister is one such company involved in this. Based in Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania, the company gives rural women an economic opportunity. Women are given solar lanterns in a supply chain, which they in turn sell to their peers while earning something for themselves. Using the Avon distribution system, the women become bosses and also create sustainable businesses.

Access to modern and reliable energy services remains essential for sustainable human development, economic growth, higher quality of life, and better delivery of education and health services. Access to energy is essential in reducing poverty. In the absence of energy services, the African rural women will continue to resort to using traditional biomass sources such as wood, charcoal, dung, and waste materials for cooking and heating. This needs to end.


Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.



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