There is little doubt that improving the environment can dramatically boost the quality of life, security and social standing of women across the world.
In perhaps one of the most startling examples, a joint UNEP-UNDP backed pilot project led by Malawi’s Department of Energy that reduces the number of trees cut down for firewood has also decreased the risk of sexual assault that women suffer when they enter forests to gather wood.
Energy-efficient stoves were made available to residents in four districts in Malawi, a country with the highest rate of deforestation in southern Africa. The stoves use high-density briquettes that last longer than wood, reducing the number of trees that are chopped down while decreasing negative impacts on the climate and improving women’s health.
The new ceramic stoves, which are made from local clay, have also dramatically cut the number of hours local women spend searching for firewood in the forest.
Malita Sabili, who has begun to use the briquettes in her home, said that the cleaner, more efficient stoves have not only freed up time and improved her health but have also reduced the risk she runs of being sexually assaulted whenever she enters the forests to collect firewood.
“Around the world violent conflicts are regularly financed by exploiting natural resources. The impact on the environment is devastating, but for women it is appalling. For women like Malita, an efficient stove doesn’t just reduce health risks or environmental impact; it reduces the risk being sexually assaulted, for instance, while collecting firewood,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director.
Women are also involved in marketing and selling the stoves, boosting female entrepreneurship.
The pilot project, which was supported by a UNEP-UNDP programme called the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), was so successful that Malawi’s government now plans to produce and distribute a further two million stoves as part of a national “cookstove roadmap” designed to improve access to cleaner energy across the country.