In Nigeria a group of rural women are taking bold action to protect themselves and their families from dangerous air pollution. The Rural Women for Energy Security (RUWES), a sisterhood of over 2 million Nigerian women, are taking control of household energy decisions by creating clean energy enterprises, training women in the manufacturing and maintenance of clean cookstoves and solar systems, and by creating a network of women entrepreneurs to provide affordable clean energy solutions across the country.
Household air pollution in Nigeria causes approximately 95,000 premature deaths each year. Women, who do most of the cooking, and their children are most vulnerable. The main culprits are kerosene lighting and simple cookstoves that burn firewood, both of which produce smoke laden with black carbon and microscopic particles (also known as particulate matter: PM2.5) that penetrate deep into the body causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
RUWES founder Bahijjahtu Abubakar, who is also Head of Renewable Energy Programme, Sustainable Development Goals and Gender at the Nigerian Ministry of Environment, said the main aim of RUWES is to insure safe, affordable and sustainable clean energy access for all, especially the rural poor, while also reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants.
“In keeping with theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, we will take bold action to get Nigerian women out of energy poverty by stimulating rural entrepreneurs in the clean energy sector and empowering our rural women as advocates of new technologies to curb air pollution,” Mrs Abubakar, said. “RUWES is also committed to bearing the torch for a new generation of clean energy skills acquisition through sustainable south-south technology exchange with rural women in other countries.”
The group has high ambitions to enhance the health of people and the physical environment, and reduce premature death rates caused by black carbon inhalation.
It does this through awareness, sensitization campaigns, and product demonstrations in rural communities to show how cleaner technologies work, and by listening to rural women to learn how to best adapt these technologies to their daily needs.
RUWES is also creating a viable market and sustainable supply chain for clean energy technologies to provide a source of income for women by helping them become clean energy entrepreneurs, and to supply energy for homes and small businesses. It is helping women access finance for business incubation and entrepreneurship. The Market Women Association of Nigeria and its entire membership of over 700,000 women joined RUWES with the aim to ensure rural availability of clean energy products.
By 2020 RUWES hopes to provide 20 million clean cook-stoves across Nigeria’s six-geopolitical zones.
Helena Molin Valdes, Head of the UN Environment hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat, said RUWES is empowering women to lead Nigeria’s adoption of clean energy.
“These women are an inspiration for other women around the world. They are changing the way Nigerians think about where they get energy from. And they are not only improving the lives of their families but are among the leaders in their country’s effort to move away from polluting energy sources,” Ms Molin Valdes said. “This network of over 2 million women are supporting each other, working as entrepreneurs and mobilizers, learning from women groups in other countries and bringing that knowledge home.”
In October 2016, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Knowledge Centre organized an exchange between a group of RUWES women and Project Surya to learn how rural women in Odisha, India are transitioning to clean household energy. They met with women in three villages where they saw different clean cookstove technologies, spoke to rural development organizations about different strategies to finance their own projects, and saw the impact the projects have had on people’s lives.
Of particular interest to the women was how mobile technology is helping women afford clean cooking technology. In the villages of Keonjhar and Notarpali they saw how sensors connected to cookstoves transmit information via a mobile network to show how often and how long clean cookstoves are used. This helps the organization Nexleaf Analytics quantify how much black carbon and carbon dioxide is prevented from being emitted into the atmosphere. This is then translated into ‘climate credits’, which enable women to get payments for using their stoves.
RUWES and Nexleaf are now trialing a similar scheme in two villages (Mararraban-Burum and Katampe) close to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, where they will be comparing two different stoves in 100 households over the next year. Tara Ramanathan, Nexleaf Program Director, hopes this will help identify the type of cookstoves women prefer using and ultimately improve the health of Nigerians and protect the climate.
“We hope that it also improves women’s empowerment through climate credit payments. This will not only help women afford the stove but also teach financial literacy, financial management and ultimately lead to financial inclusion for people who may never have had bank account before,” Ms Ramanathan said.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition commends the efforts of RUWES and its partners to improve the health and lives of Nigeria’s women and empower women to become clean energy leaders.
According to the World Health Organization, 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves. The smoke from these fires have serious impact on the environment and health. Every year over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution.