As a mother, I realize the importance of cooking for my family – it is a positive and rewarding part of my life. Many of us complain about the time it takes to go to the grocery store, drive through traffic to get home, and cook dinner, but these complaints pale in comparison to the real challenges that millions of women face around the world and right here in Ghana.
The reality is that the seemingly simple act of cooking a meal constitutes one of the most significant health and environmental challenges in the world today. Many women are spending up to one-third of their income on charcoal for cooking or are up early in the morning walking for hours to find firewood. They then spend many hours cooking over a smoky charcoal stove or open fires.
This prolonged exposure to harmful smoke is responsible for the premature loss of 4 million lives every year, and has gone unnoticed by many in the global community for too long. This is the second highest health risk factor for women in the world. In Ghana, we lose over 19,000 lives every year. More efficient and cleaner stoves and fuels like LPG can prevent these deaths and reduce by half the time and/or income spent on fuel, allowing women the time and income needed to pursue opportunities of their choice.
So why aren’t these stoves and fuels getting to Ghanaians all over the country? The simple answer is that the public isn’t aware of the issue or the fact that solutions exist.
The good news is that there is a growing sector focused on creating awareness about this issue, enhancing the performance and availability of technologies and fuels, and strengthening enterprises so they can scale production and distribution.
The efforts are spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves and the Ministry of Energy. The Global Alliance is a public-private partnership of over 900 organizations across 6 continents, taking a market based approach to ensure culturally-appropriate cook stoves and fuels are available and accessible to those who need them. Ghana is a focus country for us.
Many of the entrepreneurs manufacturing and distributing more efficient cook stoves are right here, and we are working to extend their reach into communities all around the country. In fact, the sector here in Ghana, supported through the Ghanaian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Fuels (GHACCO), has a goal of reaching five million households with clean cook stoves and/or clean fuels by the year 2020.
On this International Women’s Day, (8th March 2014) it is important to keep in mind the millions of Ghanaian women and girls living in energy poverty, risking their lives to cook food for their families every day. While many gains have been made over the past 20 years for women and girls, they remain on the frontlines – the first responders to some of life’s most difficult and dangerous moments. Women and girls are the first to feel the impacts of poverty – which is exacerbated by not having access to household energy. They are the first to be removed from school if firewood collection or cooking needs to be done, who walk further and further distances carrying extremely heavy loads when deforestation occurs, and are forced to inhale the thick toxic smoke emitted during cooking.
Today, let’s take a moment to remember the sacrifices that women make to nourish their families. But let’s also make note that women are already taking the lead in many communities to develop solutions to address their energy needs. Fully utilizing women’s expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit can release untapped potential and lead to new approaches.
Women represent a powerful force that must be leveraged if the vision of sustainable energy for all in Ghana is to be fulfilled.
Radha Muthiah Akwesi
Executive Director – Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves