(Photo: Plan International, Rwanda)
2018 International Women's Day Blog Series
Authors: Anita Shankar1,2, Naira Kalra1,2, Rachel Mahmud3, Luis Garcia4
Johns Hopkins University1 ; Bloomberg School of Public Health2 ; Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves3 ; Plan International Spain4
Over 135 million people worldwide are in need of humanitarian assistance today, as a result of violence, armed conflict and natural disasters. A large number of these individuals live in camp settings where daily living can be extremely challenging. Women and children often bear the weight of displacement—depending on food and other handouts- the delivery of which is inconsistent and unreliable- spending hours collecting fuel and cooking meals over smoky fires. But the burden of collecting firewood – often illegally- is not the only concern related to cooking with solid fuels: a recent systematic review of the literature by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (2016) found that during this task, displaced women also face the risk of physical and sexual attacks, and injuries.
The risks of gender-based violence (GBV) are also increased within the home. Women and girls in humanitarian settings are generally at higher risk for experiencing violence at home by their partners. The failure to produce cooked food due to a shortage of fuel may increase this risk. Distributing clean cookstoves is a potential solution, but there is insufficient evidence about the relationship between clean cookstove use and the incidence and risk of GBV. Clean cookstoves are a valuable commodity, and we need more research to understand the benefits and potential unintended consequences of their distribution.
(Photo: Plan International, Rwanda)
It is clear that a multi-pronged approach is needed to address this complex issue. Our collaborative team from Johns Hopkins University, Plan International, and Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves plan to examine the impacts of an innovative personal empowerment intervention for couples combined with a clean cooking technology and fuel distribution program on women’s well-being, including risks of GBV. The study will take place in Rwanda, which has long been a host to refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and more recently to nearly 89,000 refugees fleeing violence in Burundi. In the past, UNHCR and governmental agencies in Rwanda have distributed cleaner, more efficient cookstoves in refugee camps but, without any additional support emphasizing their benefits, the uptake has not been ideal. In addition, shortage of cooking fuel provided by aid agencies means refugees may collect firewood illegally - bringing them in conflict with their host communities over these scarce resources and putting them at increased risk for violence. In order to build a body of evidence linking clean cooking technology and fuel to life-enhancing outcomes, we need a collaborative effort by multiple agencies.
We hope our research and intervention contributes to the growing body of knowledge that is examining inter-sectoral actions to address both Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 (Gender Equality) and 7 (Sustainable Energy). Given the diversity of humanitarian settings that range from immediately post-conflict to protracted refugee contexts, those with internally displaced individuals to those still facing conflict- the prevalence and risk factors for GBV varies greatly. There is an urgent need for systematic, rigorous research that ethically assesses violence in these settings- both before and after interventions to provide a thorough understanding of the factors that may impact distress and GBV in an already high-risk population.
This International Women’s Day, we call upon policy makers, UN agencies and other response partners to begin measuring program impacts on GBV and better understand how the energy sector can be harnessed to ensure that interventions do more good than harm. Together we can focus greater attention and understanding on the potential of clean energy access to improve the lives of women and girls.