View Full Version : Fuel Poverty and the March towards Women Empowerment

2nd October 2013, 01:57 AM
The phenomenon of fuel poverty is the situation whereby low-income households are unable to save money to invest in more energy efficient devices (Boardman 2012). This is to say that, there is a high corrrelation between increasing income levels and the adoption of clean energy alternatives by households. Thus when household income rises, then people are more likely to switch to modern substitutes. This forms the basis for the fuel ladder concept whereby there is a direct correlation between household income and the adoption of clean cooking technology (Boardman2012). Goldemberg (2004) illustrates it schematically in terms of increasing efficiency as follows: dung/crop residues?fuelwood?charcoal?kerosene ?LPG/natural gas/electricity.

In Ghana as well as many places in Africa, the household chores are often the responsibility of the woman. One such responsibility attached is the household chores is the search for fuel to cook meals for the family. Wood fuels (charcoal and fuelwood) are the main source of fuel in rural areas of Ghana, however it comes with detrimental health, environmental and other livelihood effects.Thus access to clean fuels will very much aid in enhancing the livelihood of the women folk especially in the rural areas. This is significant given that the female population forming circa 51% of Ghana’s population (according to 2012 population census).

The time and energy invested in searching for fuel is one of urgent concern. These invaluable resources could be better invested in other fruitful ventures which could earn income and thus enhance their livelihoods. Over a billion of the world’s females (women and girls) are reliant on solid fuel for satisfying basic home needs. The opportunity to rise above poverty is compromised for such people due to solid fuel dependency. Such women aided by their children use laborious hours each day in search of fuel. Furthermore, after covering long distances to find and gather fuel, they have to carry these heavy loads to cook on crude and inefficient stoves. This situation worsens the fuel collection task (Goldemberg et al,2004). Parikh (2011) observes that in the Himachal Pradesh area of India, women trek 30 km monthly taking 2.7 h per trip to gather fuel wood often navigating very difficult terrain. Furthermore they experience ‘stress like stiff-neck, backache, headache and loss of work days’. This is not an isolated case as rural folk in some parts of Ghana spend approximately 2.5 hours in search of firewood and also complain of similar challenges. Goldemberg et al (2004), argue that though fuel wood is deemed to be free, in reality it is not free but rather non-monetised. This is due to the reason that no value is given to the labour of the women and children in collecting wood fuel. Furthermore, if the negative health impacts were also internalised, then solid fuel would be extremely expensive. Also the producers and traders (mostly women) are often exploited by middlemen who give them a pittance for their effort but go on to sell their produce at very prices (Zulu and Richardso 2013).

Education and alternative livelihoods is one way of approaching this challenge. In many rural areas, women do not have a source of income so collecting free firewood for cooking is the only means of getting cooking fuel. But with a source of income and awareness created, they can also afford relatively cleaner fuels.

Another option is to improve the rural infrastructure such as roads to improve access to the rural areas. This reduces the additional cost of conducting business in the rural areas which is a disincentive for businesses which want to sell cleaner fuels in the rural areas. For example many gas suppliers avoid the rural areas because of the additional cost which they have to pass onto the consumers who will not buy in the end. Easing taxes on clean energy components will help as well in reducing the cost of production units so people can buy.

The plan of the Energy Commission to introduce small gas bottles at affordable prices targeting the rural populace will be a welcome addition in the energy dynamics of the country. This will help in reducing the hazards associated with the use of woodfuels which a large section of the Ghanaian population is exposed to. Hence their energy and time can then be invested in more fruitful ventures which will help improve their livelihoods.

Submitted by: Felix Kwabena Donkor

Aalborg University,Denmark