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An estimated 1.1 billion people – 95 percent of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia – did not have access to electricity in 2016. An estimated 3 billion people continue to rely on open fires and traditional cookstoves burning biomass fuels to heat their homes and cook their food. These realities have profound implications on the daily lives of many of the world’s poorest people, particularly women, who are disproportionately responsible for many of the labor and time-intensive tasks that must be performed when electricity is not readily available.
In many parts of the developing world, women and girls spend much of their time collecting fuel – including firewood, agricultural waste, and animal dung – and cooking over fires that emit harmful smoke, consume large amounts of fuel and need to be tended to constantly. Cooking over such cookstoves poses serious health risks, including eye and respiratory ailments caused by continuous exposure to indoor air pollution.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.3 million premature deaths per year are caused by smoke inhalation from cooking, which is more than the number of deaths caused by malaria or tuberculosis. This makes exposure to smoke from cooking the fourth leading risk factor for disease in developing countries. Additionally, it is estimated that a substantial percentage of the 265,000 burn deaths that occur annually can be attributed to burns from unsafe cookstoves and open fires, including those in kerosene lamps.
By contrast, access to electricity can have profound impacts on women. Street lighting, for instance, makes it easier for women to access public areas after dark and allows them to more safely complete tasks outside the home. A study in Bangladesh found that home electrification increased the time available for education and for income-generating work, which contributed to incomes that were 65 percent higher for households with electricity than those without. A long-term World Bank study in India demonstrated that rural household electrification was linked to increased school enrollment for girls – because it allowed girls to be able to reallocate domestic tasks to the evening hours, freeing up time during the day for them to pursue their studies.
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As a research organization, ICRW is committed to building the evidence base to better understand how women and girls are affected by energy access. To that end, ICRW has collaborated with a number of partners in recent years to identify and develop effective strategies that improve women’s health and well-being and to increase the use of clean energy.
ICRW has worked with a range of organizations to help them better understand how the clean energy sector can more effectively engage with and empower women. ICRW explored how social enterprises in which Acumen invests can more effectively engage with and empower women in the energy, agricultural, and other sectors. ICRW also conducted an assessment with Solar Sister, a social enterprise that sells solar lanterns and clean and efficient cookstoves through “clean energy entrepreneurs,” to understand whether and how being a clean energy entrepreneur impacts women’s and men’s lives at the individual, family and community levels. Through this study, ICRW found that putting income and energy in women’s hands can have powerful economic and social impacts on women’s lives – including impacts on women’s income, autonomy, decision-making power, mobility, and status – as well as the lives of their families and communities.
Additionally, ICRW has lent its monitoring and evaluation expertise to projects related to the energy sector. Through a multi-year project with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, ICRW developed a global social impact measurement framework associated with clean and/or efficient cookstoves and fuels. The system captured the social impacts that result when employees and entrepreneurs, particularly women, participate in clean cooking value chains, as well as the impacts that the use of clean and/or efficient cookstoves can have on households.
ICRW has also developed the capacity of a number of social enterprises in East Africa and Southeast Asia to evaluate their own programs engaging women as clean energy entrepreneurs through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ Women’s Empowerment Fund.
Furthermore, ICRW is currently conducting a small-scale study of a project distributing clean and efficient cookstoves to Congolese refugees in a refugee camp in Rwanda by Inyenyeri, a Rwandan social enterprise. The assessment will seek to understand the social and economic impacts this stove – which burns biomass pellets – will have on the refugee population, including on household economic stability, cooking safety and health, time, poverty related to fuel collection and cooking, as well as other gender roles and dynamics within the household.