Today we celebrate the UN’s International Day of Rural Women. The theme is “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All”, and highlights the essential role that rural women and girls play in the food systems of the world. From production of crops to processing, preparing and distributing foods, women’s labour – paid and unpaid – feeds their families, communities and the world. Yet, they do not wield equal power with men, and as a result, they earn less income and experience higher food insecurity. With less than 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including Zero Hunger Goal 2) and Gender Equality (Goal 5), UN Women is working to support rural women and girls around the world, to build their resilience, skills and leadership.
Our Rwanda stoves project materially transforms the lives of women across rural Rwanda and is directly contributing to progress on these SDGs. 2.8 billion people still do not have access to clean cooking and continue to use traditional 3 stone fires and it is women in particular who suffer economically and whose lives are reduced by chronic lung disease caused by smoke inhalation. The UN sees access to clean cooking as a human rights issue and progress has been glacially slow, in large part because cooking is a women’s activity and does not get the attention from government and policy makers that it deserves. The World Bank assesses that cooking related activities-that is gathering wood, lighting and tending the fire, cooking and cleaning up afterwards takes up to 8 hours every day and this is women’s work. This leaves them little time to be engaged in more economically productive activities such as cultivating their crops.
Our stove frees women from the fire. Because it uses at least 50% less wood, time spent collecting wood fuel is cut. In Rwanda the majority cook on traditional open fires and this , combined with population growth, has led to extensive deforestation. This means women and children may have to walk 4 or 5 kilometres from their village simply to find enough firewood for their daily cooking needs. This also leaves women and girls vulnerable to attack. Compared to the 3 stone fire, the DelAgua stove is very quick and easy to light and boils water in 10 minutes. Women comment on how much faster food cooks which means they feel able to cook more frequently providing better nutrition for their children. It also frees them to have significantly more time to work in their fields and produce better crop yields.
A further benefit for those women who have to purchase their firewood, one of their biggest household expenditures, is an immediate financial saving. Julienne, one of our stove recipients pictured here, told us a wood bundle used to last three days and now her bundle lasts three times as long. With the money Julienne is saving on firewood she is able to purchase more stock for the shop she runs from the front of her home. And because cooking is taking half the time it used to, Julienne is able to devote more time to her enterprise and improve her family’s economic situation.
Supporting women means listening to women, engaging fully with them, understanding and being responsive to their needs. We conduct thousands of household surveys and use this information to provide a stove that works for Rwanda’s rural women. If a stove doesn’t work properly or isn’t easy to use, to quote Caroline Criado Perez’s “Invisible Women” -it’s not the women who need fixing, it’s the stove. As well seeing the joy with which our stoves are received and the easy immediate transition to using the DelAgua stove, independently audited data shows that 2 years after receipt 99% of our stoves are in daily use: it’s a stove that really works for our women and the reality of their lives.
We know that the provision of a stove transforms women’s lives. We have delivered over 640,000 stoves so far and our goal is 2.3 million: a stove for every single rural Rwandan family. To find out more about the women we are empowering and to support our project on International Day of Rural Women click here.