Women bearing the brunt of traditional cooking methods

Cooking is traditionally a role for women especially in the rural areas.

In Summary

•Harmful gases produced from unclean and traditional cooking methods such as methane, carbon monoxide and black carbon have been reported to contribute a lot to the country’s disease burden especially among women and girls.

•And to scale up the adoption of improved cooking technologies and knowledge in Kenya, thus reduce the disease burden, women need to be at the center of any interventions around the issue.

Women are disproportionately affected by traditional cooking methods, including cooking using the three-stone open fire and with metallic stoves, both of which are inefficient.

Furthermore, women spend valuable time collecting firewood and in kitchens, bearing the brunt of household air pollution which is a leading cause of lower respiratory tract ailments.

Obviously, this has a negative implication on the protection and promotion of women's rights, especially those lingering on economic, cultural and social rights.

The fact once affected as a result of using these traditional cooking methods, women miss out on other opportunities that would have improved their lot in the community and have to wait for affirmative action interventions to catch up. Cooking is traditionally a role for women, especially in rural areas, and the burden of preparing family meals squarely lies with them Thus, to help minimise the harm associated with such, women must be empowered to adopt new cooking technologies that are critical in protecting their rights.

Harmful gases produced from unclean and traditional cooking methods such as methane, carbon monoxide and black carbon have been reported to contribute a lot to the country’s disease burden, especially among women and girls.

And to scale up the adoption of improved cooking technologies and knowledge in Kenya, thus reduce the disease burden, women need to be at the centre of any interventions around the issue.

The clean cooking sector needs attention because its neglect will continue to frustrate the country’s efforts towards dealing with pollution, improved health through increased disease burden and above all mitigate adverse effects of climate change.

A study by the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya and the Ministry of Energy entitled Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study released recently, 93.2 per cent of Kenyans in rural areas still rely on solid fuels as their primary fuel source.

Sammy Muraya from the Voice for Women and Girls Rights Project notes that people rarely look at technology as an enabler for the protection and promotion of the rights of women at all, yet innovations such as improved cooking technologies and Artificial intelligence have been proved to alter the power dynamics in societies in ways that protect the vulnerable.

“Culture while good and must be respected has been a big challenge in earlier efforts to embrace the respect and realization of the rights of women. We must creatively look at improving and altering our traditional way of doing things that have kept women and girls out of accessing some opportunities for sometimes and find ways of making this burden light through innovations” Muraya notes.

“It is important that interventions that seek to improve the performance of some social gender roles in our communities are promoted so that the bigger benefits of respecting the rights of such groups are protected. Empowering women w to own and use such technologies that enable them to perform their traditional chores while at the same time-saving time, their health and allowing them to participate in innovative ventures is critical in our efforts to realize the protection of their rights” he adds.

The Government of Kenya recognizes the negative impact traditional cooking methods have on women and has made it clear in a number of policy statements including the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030 that it is committed to ensuring access to clean energy a key priority. Kenya’s Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Action agenda envisions that universal access to modern cooking solutions for all Kenyans is achieved by 2030.

The Ministry of Energy has partnered with different government agencies and stakeholders through the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Clean Cooking-which Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) is a co-convener-to help identify actions and interventions that can accelerate the shift from cooking using inefficient technologies and polluting fuels to using improved, cleaner and efficient technologies and fuels by adopting various interventions.

The committee and sector stakeholders have acknowledged that accelerated access and uptake of clean cooking solutions is greatly hampered by factors such as limited distribution network and supply of cooking technologies and fuels especially in rural areas, inability to pay for cleaner cooking solutions, the durability of cooking technologies, safety concerns and cultural resistance

At the centre of the practices that continue to see the violation of women rights is the traditional culture that seems to put emphasis on cooking approaches, including using the three stones, use of particular trees as firewood when cooking some traditional foods or during some communal ceremonies, which in principle frustrate efforts to root out cooking methods that expose women to health hazards.

Women and girls spend a considerable amount of time looking for firewood and cooking, precious time that would have been spent on reading, engaging in income-generating activities and by large minimizing exposure to harmful gases, should we have pushed for the adoption of clean cooking technologies that have been proved to have advantages especially for women and girls.

A study by the CCAK and the Ministry of Energy entitled Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study released recently, 93.2 per cent of Kenyans in rural areas still rely on solid fuels as their primary fuel source. Using clean cooking solutions will support the Government to restore Kenya’s forest cover to 10 per cent from the current 7 per cent.

Furthermore, household air pollution brought about by cooking using inefficient technologies is a key health risk factor to Kenyans. It notes that about 58 per cent of Kenyans in 2019 compared to 76% in 1999 of households use the three-stone open fire (TSOF-that includes improved artisanal charcoal stoves, artisanal metallic charcoal stove and the branded charcoal stoves).