Celebrating women at the fore in Providing Clean Cooking Energy Solutions

Celebrating women at the fore in Providing Clean Cooking Energy Solutions

By Nimo Nyambura

Ruiru, Kenya: Dorcas Eshikumu; yanks and pulls skillfully at the feet of the Jikokoa™ cook stove, checking and rechecking to ensure they hold their ground under fire as they cook in the kitchen of a Kenyan home.

A quality control officer at BURN Manufacturing; a company that produces life-saving stoves, Dorcas takes pride in her work. “Before I would check the feet of the Jikokoa bottoms with my hands but I suggested to my boss to be using some pliers since the hands can get weary and pass substandard products,” she says, pressing a counter machine each time a sheet passes her approval.

BURN Manufacturing’s Jikokoa cook stove halves fuel use compared to the commonly used jiko stoves allowing women to save 50 Kenyan Shillings a day or up to 18,000 Kenyan Shillings (roughly $200 USD) per year. As well as providing economic savings, the Jikokoa produces 64 percent less smoke than a standard charcoal jiko and is a vast improvement of air quality, explained Chris McKinney, the Research and Development Engineer at the company.

Indeed the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that some 4.3million people worldwide mostly women and children who traditionally spend their time indoors, die every year from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary biomass and coal cook stoves.

Having grown up in rural Kenya where cooking on an open fire is the norm, Dorcas or ‘Mwana’ as her colleagues call her, understands that each high quality Jikokoa stove that passes through her keen eyes means fewer women and children will die from indoor air pollution as they cook.

“As a child I spent most of my weekends and school holidays fetching firewood at the Misingo hills in Butere- Mumias County , for the family’s ‘moto wa mawe tatu’–a traditional open fire made up of three stones on which cooking is done.”

“I learnt to balance as much firewood on my back as I could to try and avoid the one hour trip back to Misingo hills to fetch more firewood. By the time I was a young adult, I had mustered the trail so well that I had halved the hour long trip,” said Dorcas in recollection, her full lips curving into a rueful smile as her hands clean away at some invisible dirt on her black jeans.

Her childhood is similar to that of most girls in rural Kenya and in most developing countries, who are primarily tasked with fuel collection for household cooking. This limits their ability to participate in safer, more productive activities, including education, notes a 2015 report by the United Nations Children Fund – UNICEF dubbed ‘Why Sustainable energy matters for children.’

Indeed across the world, women are primarily responsible for cooking , as such they suffer most from unclean and inefficient cooking, making the dissemination of clean cook stoves very much a gender issue, noted a February 2015 report on Women and Sustainable Energy by Ashden – a charity organization that champions sustainable energy solutions.

Dorcas, is the first of two Quality Control (QC) Inspectors, employed at the Ruiru based factory and adds to its nearly 50 percent female workforce. “Being a QC has helped me gain a lot of confidence, I am able to articulate when a product isn’t at par with BURN standards and correct it early, as well as guide new employees at the factory.”

Women’s empowerment and place in society can also be advanced by employing them in the delivery of energy to try change traditional perceptions of their capabilities and potentially challenge existing norms surrounding the gendered division of labour especially in the energy sector, noted the Ashden report.

So far the company has sold over 70,000 units which is estimated to have given around 250,000 people access to clean cooking energy options, said Mr. McKinney.

“ I believe in the Jikokoa™, says Dorcas, its benefits are life impacting, the ashtray collects ash from the burning charcoal keeping your house and the air clean since it has very little smoke; a jiko without smoke is something no one thought was even possible!”

BURN Manufacturing was the recipient of this year’s Ashden International Awards for its role in helping to improve the lives of women and girls in East Africa with its efficient modern charcoal-burning Jikokoa™ stove and employment opportunities which it provides to women in the community.

“BURN must be commended not for just producing a great charcoal stove that saves women time and money, but also employing women in significant numbers, enabling them to increase their economic independence and improve their position in society, “ said the judging panel on BURN.

The Ashden awards are the world’s leading green energy awards and were held at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 11 June 2015.

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