Women have always had a more pronounced symbiotic connection with nature and the environment throughout time; and this relationship has assumed greater primacy especially in the last half century.
The impact of women on the environment and the effect of environment on the health and well being of women are in fact so obvious that discourses on environmental safety and the provision of sustainable energy will remain incomplete if they gloss over these critical dimensions.
A World Bank report of 1991 on the subject indeed emphasizes that “women play an essential role in the management of natural resources, including soil, water, forests and energy… and often have a profound traditional and contemporary knowledge of the natural world around them’.
Women play a pivotal role in food production, in spite of pervasive gender discrimination in the ownership of land.
They are also the main actors in the collection and utilisation of energy for cooking and other related domestic chores.
Particularly in developing countries, the energy divide or deficit affects women more adversely. They live through and bear the brunt of energy poverty because of the additional burden that is imposed by household chores.
Thus without access to modern energy services, women and girls spend most of their day performing basic subsistence tasks, including time-consuming and physically-draining tasks of collecting biomass fuels, which constrains them from accessing other options for decent wage employment, educational opportunities and livelihood enhancing choices, as well as limiting their options for social and political interactions outside the household.( Danielsen, 2012)
According to WHO and UNDP reports, usage of biomass as a source of energy for cooking and baking is particularly detrimental to the health of women and children.
Indoor pollution generated by fuels such as wood, dung, charcoal and coal are the causes of several acute respiratory infections, lung disease and cancer. It can also expose them to sexual and physical violence as they are required to collect fuels from isolated and remote areas.
On the other hand, environmental degradation and climate change adds to the burden of women.
As described above, women in rural areas in particular are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, because of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating.
The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation, make it harder to secure these resources.
Equity and equal allocation of resources are vital factors for sustainable development.
Within this perspective, policies and strategies that eliminate or mitigate gender inequality ultimately contributes to economic growth that cascades down to all members of society irrespective of gender.
Environmental safety and availability of sustainable energy supplies must be seen within this matrix of economic growth that is predicated on social equity.
In the case of Eritrea, as it is indeed the case with other developing countries, these issues remain challenging and require concerted endeavours to overcome them.
A large size of the Eritrean population lives in the rural areas. So creating access to modern energy is still an issue that has to be addressed fully.
The arid climate in major parts of the country posses constrains in the availability of water for agricultural production and domes¬tic utilization.
Along with various projects that will enhance access to electricity services in many rural parts of the country, the wide distribution of a locally made modern stove stands out as an innovative and practical stop-gap approach that will go a long way to ease women’s burden in the interim period.
The project also aims to reduce indoor pollution and environmental degradation. Its appropriate appellation – ‘Megogo Adhanet’ or the ‘the Saviour Stove’ – summarizes the general perception of its utility and relevance at this point in time.
The concept of an improved cooking stove was first mulled by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MOEM), and in particular the Eritrean Energy Research centre in collaboration with the NUEW and the Ministry of Agriculture.
The stove is modified in its smoke exhaustion and ventilations components for efficiency of output with fewer amount of wood and dung; i.e. 50% reduction of fuel biomass inputs.
The stove price is affordable as it is cost effective and easily made out of clay. The technique is simple and women themselves can build the stove with short-term training.
This offers additional employment. National Union of Eritrean Women’s report of last year, (Beijing +20 report), indicates that more than 91,000 ovens have been distributed throughout the country in the past years.
The projections for this year were much increased production and distribution.
Mogogo Adhanet has brought about considerable positive changes in the lives of women. Reduced smoke exhaustion contributes to cleaner air and much less indoor pollution.
This means less health hazards and respiratory problems in women than would otherwise be the case with the use of traditional ovens .
Other notable advantage of Mogogo Adhanet is its contribution to environmental degradation in terms of less deforestation and pollution.
On a related subject, the GEF-SGP program has been launched throughout the country to encourage and facilitate innovative approaches for community-based environmental programs.
The NUEW is actively sponsoring this programme which focuses on contributing resiliency and capacity building in the rehabilitation of degraded land.
The GEF-SGP project encompasses construction of catchments, check-dams, terracing, and afforestation programmes through encouragement of community work in all villages.
The role of women in the implementation of these programs remains vivid and exemplary.
In many cases, they are the principal drivers and actors of communal work.
Through these endeavours, Eritrean women have become vocal and effective proponents for protection of land degradation and desertification as well as for soil conservation and water harvesting,
These integrated programmes are yielding dividends in their household income, social status and overall well-being.