In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 7 is geared towards providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Worldwide, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to basic reliable energy they can utilise for powering their homes and cooking. In developing countries, lack of access to clean energy is particularly significant to women’s health and family livelihoods.
The global Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SEforALL) acknowledges the importance of addressing women’s issues in order to achieve sustainable energy for all. SEforALL’s target for improving access to clean energy is intended to reduce premature deaths from indoor air pollution and to provide modern services to healthcare providers. SDG 5 is about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Tackling these goals together will ensure better results in alleviating the effects of lack of clean energy deepened by the gender inequalities across the globe and a significant reduction in poverty. Air pollution is now considered a deadlier disease than HIV and malaria combined with most of it victims in developing countries being women and children due to exposure to indoor wood fires.
In summary, the main issues identified are:
- Collection of fuel used for cooking, which is a task primarily carried out by women and children takes up lots of hours a week and wastes valuable time that could be used in going to school or participating in income generating activities.
- Toxic fumes and smoke from the open fire are severe health risks in developing countries.
- Overuse of wood as a source of fuel contributes significantly to soil erosion, deforestation, and ultimately global warming.
- Lack of lighting in homes and the community limits hours where income generating activities can be carried out and studying for children.
WHO estimates approximately 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in developing countries are attributed to indoor air pollution resulting from lung diseases, acute respiratory infections, lung cancer and pneumonia. Other hazards resulting such cooking methods include asthma, burns from open fire, and cataracts which are a leading cause of blindness. Providing access to clean renewable energy therefore has immense benefits not exclusively to the environment, but also to improving health and living standards and bridging gender gaps. Other benefits include:
- Job creation in the stove production chain for community members.
- Improved economic growth for the region as women spend less time gathering wood and cooking and have more time to engage in education, income generating activities and community participation.
Due to the demand of cleaner energy since the development of the SDG, lots of initiatives and social enterprises have been created to fill this need. Some notable enterprises and initiatives include:
- Solar Sister – “Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. We are creating a deliberately woman-centred direct sales network to bring the breakthrough potential of clean energy technology to even the most remote communities in rural Africa.”
- Pollinate Energy – “Our solution is a distribution network that brings life-changing products to people who need them most.”
- Greenway Grameen Infra – “To promote clean cooking by eradicating the concept of mud chullas (mud stoves). Greenway aspires to promote their modern technology stove which reduces smoke emission by 70% and also saves fuel by 65% while using these solid biomass fuels.”
- Clean Cooking Revolution – “Clean Cooking Revolution is an impact driven, social venture, that wants to improve lives in townships in multiple ways. We are committed to our sustainable win-win-win business model, that makes the distribution of the clean cookstoves and the necessary fuel, easy and cost-effective. Our mission is to kill the ‘killer in the kitchen’, with over 4 million casualties worldwide.”
- Nigeria Clean Cooking – “The Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves will build a public-private partnership to introduce 10 million fuel-efficient stoves to Nigerian homes and institutions by 2021.”