It’s hard to imagine the everyday reality of a woman who must venture for miles into the bush to collect firewood for her family. And yet in communities in rural Africa, that daily routine almost never varies.
A woman in rural Zimbabwe, for example, will wake up well before sunrise so she can get a fire going to cook and boil water. After feeding her children she’ll walk — sometimes up to 10 kilometres — to fetch firewood. She’ll be at risk of snakebite, sexual assault from men who prey on vulnerable women, and attack from wild animals.
She may do this with a baby strapped to her back and toddlers at her feet. And when she makes the return trip home, she’ll be balancing as much firewood as she can on her head. She also has to fetch enough water for domestic use, usually at a common well that is also far away.
She’ll then spend the rest of the day working in the fields, plowing and irrigating crops by hand. Once darkness falls, she’ll continue doing chores by candlelight or kerosene lamp — and if neither of these is available, all she’ll have is the dying embers of the day’s fire.
The lack of electricity affects her in other ways, too.
In rural communities all over Africa, a woman who’s going to have a baby may have to deliver her child in the dark — maybe even on a dirt floor. If she’s lucky enough to make it to a clinic, there’s no guarantee of reliable electricity, yet without it, it is difficult for health care workers to monitor the child’s heartbeat or intervene properly when necessary.
Chiedza Mazaiwana, who works as an advocacy officer for Practical Action Southern Africa in Zimbabwe, says the lack of electricity destroys the productivity and potential of so many women.
But having access to affordable, renewable energy changes everything.
“We have a saying in Africa that once you empower a woman you’ve empowered a nation. Women are very enterprising. They are willing to learn. They are able to do much more and empower themselves. They’re willing to go to school, to learn to read to better themselves, and carry out income-generating projects. What they really need is to have time freed up to do these things.”
A woman who no longer has to collect firewood or fetch water experiences far less drudgery each day, is more productive, and has more time to pursue income-generating activities.
Access to affordable, sustainable energy changes lives in many other ways, too:
- Families’ health improves when they no longer have to breathe the fumes generated by firewood cook stoves
- Women can give birth by solar light instead of labouring in complete darkness
- Children are able to study at night as they work toward improving their own lives
- Teachers and doctors are more willing to build a life in remote communities
- Health care workers can provide proper care at night
- Clinics can store vaccine and other medicines
- Crops can be irrigated using solar–powered pumps instead of watering by hand, which dramatically increases crop yields
- Refrigeration can dramatically extend the longevity of produce, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where spoilage destroys 50 per cent of all crops before they ever get to market
Photo credit: Nokero Solar
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