Around the world, three billion people rely on open fires, traditional cookstoves and fuels to cook food and heat their homes — causing serious environmental and health problems. Over four million people globally die each year from exposure to household air pollution caused by cooking fires.
The health and economic burdens caused by inefficient cookstoves and fuels disproportionately impact women and girls, as the responsibility of cooking and fuel gathering largely falls on them.
While women are disproportionately affected by inefficient cooking methods, they can also play a vital role in the adoption and use of clean cookstoves. Recognizing that women’s access to clean, efficient and renewable energy is essential for gender equitable development, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) made the following commitment at the 2014 Cookstoves Future Summit, held by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves:
For the first time, ICRW will integrate women’s energy access as a strategic priority into its research on global health, economic empowerment and livelihoods. ICRW will seek to raise funds for a program of research on women’s energy access, building on its expertise in Alliance focus countries in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa, including India, Kenya and Uganda. ICRW will also serve as a leading voice in communicating that women’s access to clean, efficient and renewable energy is essential for gender equitable development.
Further, ICRW has partnered with the Alliance to design a framework for measuring the social impact of clean cooking solutions, including on women’s social and economic empowerment. Our initial research shows that clean cooking solutions can create social impact for women in two ways.
First, women can be empowered through their involvement in the clean cooking value chain. For example, women gain valuable skills, knowledge, access to resources, and decision-making abilities through their involvement as investors, small and medium enterprise (SME) owners and executives, and as employees or entrepreneurs engaged in the design, production, distribution, or after-sales service of cookstoves. Through their involvement in these various roles, women may experience increased agency, sense of status and economic prosperity. Furthermore, when women are engaged as change-makers within the clean cooking industry, this can have a multiplier effect on the adoption and use of clean cooking solutions.
Second, when families use clean cooking solutions correctly and consistently, it can create a series of improvements in a household’s social and economic well-being. As families change their fuel source and cooking efficiency, they may save money on fuel. Additionally, family members may actually be able to use the cookstove for an income generating activity, such as selling cooked food, and thus bring more income into the household. Perhaps most importantly for women, however, the adoption of clean cooking solutions can also decrease the amount of time and effort used collecting fuel and cooking, allowing her more time to spend on generating income, pursuing education or training, enjoying leisure activities or time with family.
This first round of findings provides evidence that access to clean, efficient, and renewable energy is essential for gender equitable development. Over the next thirteen months, ICRW will work with the Alliance to refine, test, pilot, and roll out a set of social impact indicators and data collection methodologies with clean cooking and fuel enterprises. These indicators will capture the main areas of impact identified in the first phase of work with the Alliance. Not only will this partnership with the Alliance allow ICRW to help build the global monitoring framework for clean cooking solutions, but it will also allow ICRW to continue to build its experience and expertise at the intersection of gender and energy.
With increasing attention and investment in clean energy throughout the developing world, it is crucial that we continue not only to explore the gendered social impacts of the clean cooking sector, but also to build the larger evidence base for how inclusion of women as active participants within the energy sector improves the expansion and use of clean energy solutions.
Cover photo courtesy of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.