‘Wanjira Mathai is the Director, Partnerships for Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER), Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI). She previously directed International Affairs at Green Belt Movement (GBM), which was founded by her mother, the late Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai. There she managed International outreach and resource mobilization. For 6 years prior to joining GBM, Mathai worked as Senior Program Officer at the Carter Presidential Center (USA), monitoring and evaluating disease eradication programs. She Chairs the Green Belt Movement and is a Board member of WMI, Wangari Mathai Foundation and Resonate. She is also a World Future Councilor, Advisory Council Member (Global Cookstoves Alliance), Member of the Global Restoration Council and Member of the Earth Charter International Council. Mathai is Kenyan and a graduate of Hobart & William Smith College. She earned graduate degrees in Public Health and Business from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Goizueta School of Business. ‘ (Profile Courtesy of the Clinton Global Initiative Blogs https://www.clintonfoundation.org/blog/authors/wanjira-mathai )
The sight of a woman carrying a bundle of firewood is all too common in many rural villages of Sub-Saharan Africa. Our societies however are unaware that the use of wood fuel such as firewood and charcoal is a major problem both from a health and environmental perspective. The increase in demand for wood fuel especially for charcoal production is unsustainable and bound to be more destructive under a business-as-usual scenario. Indeed 72% of urban and 98% of rural households use wood fuel in the form of firewood and charcoal for cooking and space heating. With low forest cover and increasing signs of climate change, Kenya is currently facing prolonged drought while our weather patterns remain unreliable.
One may assume that the issue of the use of wood fuel is not as severe as some pose it to be but have you ever considered that despite a rapidly modernized Kenya, statistics still reflect that the average woman spends 5 hours in a day collecting firewood? Or that over 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to respiratory complications caused by soot inhaled from household air pollution? These numbers are real.
This is why the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER) conducted extensive trainings country wide with the aim of educating women about the importance of environmental protection and the use of clean and renewable energy while empowering women through women entrepreneurship.
Follow-up studies showed that the use of improved cookstoves reduced their energy consumption and minimized health issues – particularly respiratory issues – that were prevalent before the adoption of improved cookstoves. By targeting women as clean energy entrepreneurs we have affirmed that women have a catalytic role to play in ending energy poverty and improving livelihoods.
We may argue that Africa’s has had significant strides in terms of development but statistics still show that 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without access to clean and affordable energy. Progress cannot be termed so until it is collective. One of the best ways to achieve collective progress is by joining hands in order to find innovative solutions that will work to help our continent achieve the sustainable development goals. This is essentially how we can secure a better future for ourselves, collectively. Earlier this year I was involved in a forum which saw great minds and leaders in the field of energy discuss the priority actions needed to move the needle on issues such as the sustainability of wood fuels in developing countries. These kinds of fora are very important to foster dialogue necessary to bring about change.
Despite rampant deforestation and land degradation, we cannot blame innocent women who are now forced to walk the extra mile to gather firewood in order to cook for their families and brave yet another day. What we can do however is help them. This is essentially what wPOWER aims to do as we provide alternative solutions to women at the grassroots so that we may bridge the energy gap.
Empowering women through increasing access to clean and affordable energy is in itself a driver for change. This was echoed in the words of Prof. Wangari Maathai who once said:
“I strongly believe that if Africa is to progress…it is on the hillsides and with women that we must work. That’s where those of us concerned about Africa and her citizens must focus our energies, for it is where the vast majority of Africa’s people are, and it is with their lives we must engage.”
- The Challenge for Africa.
If we, together with many others of similar opinion believe that women’s rights is the unfinished business of the 21st Century, then these and many other issues that women face particularly in Africa should to be tackled, together.