Fueling Sustainable Development for Women and Girls with Clean Cookstoves

From May 16 to 19 this year, advocates from around the world are coming together in Copenhagen for the Women Deliver conference. As they work to improve the lives of women and girls, we’re spotlighting their work and experiences here on the Ms. blog.

This week nearly 6,000 people gathered in Copenhagen to attend Women Deliver, the largest conference on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women in the last decade and the first major global gathering focused on women and girls since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This event provided an opportunity for the global gender community to come together to discuss how to fund, implement, and evaluate approaches that will ensure that the SDGs are met for women and girls all over the world.

It brought together an impressive group of world leaders, national champions, and stakeholders from a wider-angle of countries and sectors, including maternal health, political participation, sexual and reproductive rights, climate change, and education. It even garnered major commitments, like the one from Melinda Gates, who announced an investment of $80 million to collect data on the gender gap.

As the global development community prioritizes a broad range of interventions to ensure that women and girls are able to thrive, they cannot forget about how access to energy drastically impacts the lives of women and girls. It may seem obvious, but every person everywhere needs to eat cooked food and when families do not have access to clean cookstoves and fuels, it is women and girls who suffer most.

There are dire health, environmental, and socio-economic consequences for the nearly 3 billion people who rely on biomass for cooking and breath in toxic cooking smoke. This daily exposure is one of the world’s biggest killers, particularly for girls and women in the developing world – 4.3 million people die prematurely each year. Additionally, access to clean cooking solutions can significantly reduce time poverty for women and girls who spend many hours each day collecting fuel and cooking. With this freed time, they can pursue education, income generation, or social opportunities.

The situation is even worse for crisis-affected women who sometimes walk for hours to find firewood, which increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence and physical injuries. And, as the world continues to see the impacts from climate change, women and girls are forced to walk even further to collect fuel or use even more toxic fuels, such as trash.

While women benefit significantly from access to household energy, they are also central to the success of clean cooking interventions. They can catalyze the market as clean energy entrepreneurs and lead efforts that develop effective and sustainable solutions. They are not just victims—they are change agents whose involvement will determine the realization of the goal to achieve sustainable energy for all.

Increasing access to clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels can deliver dramatic gender impacts, while also improving health, protecting the environment, and enhancing livelihoods—all of which help to achieve multiple SDGs. Women Deliver was an excellent opportunity to encourage policymakers, donors, and implementers to ensure that clean cooking remains a priority and is fully integrated into the global gender agenda. Energy access and gender equality are too often thought of as unrelated goals and discussions at Women Deliver helped continue the shift in thinking about energy access and its critical role in driving gender equality.

Photo courtesy of Engineering for Change on Flickr and licensed via Creative Commons 3.0.



Corinne Hart is the Director of Gender & Humanitarian Programs for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Prior to her work on increasing access to energy and clean cooking technology in the developing world at the UN Foundation, she worked in the Capitol Hill office of California Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, was a corps member of Teach for America teaching special education in New York City and taught at an orphanage in Sucre, Bolivia. She has a Bachelor’s in Critical Gender Studies and Political Science and a Master’s of Science in Education.