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Energy and women empowerment

A description of how energy availability and access can result in women’s empowerment

Women are intrinsically part of the process of rural energy requirements, as they are engaged in provision of vital amenities, such as safe and sufficient water for domestic needs, fodder for cattle, farming activities and so forth. Women and energy have a strong relationship, for they are the ones who work more to source it and utilize it. Limited access to energy is a problem that has a disproportionate effect on women, especially in rural areas. It is most often women who must expend large amounts of time and physical effort to supply fuel for their households and productive needs, using their own labor to carry heavy loads over increasingly long distances, at great risk to their health and safety. In cases where there is limited availability of fuel wood, the food habits of the family changes which in turn affects its nutritional requirements Other health hazards arise from the fact that women do most of the cooking. They and their young children are exposed to large amounts of smoke and particulates from indoor fires and suffer from a number of respiratory diseases. Lack of energy services is directly correlated with the major elements of poverty, including inadequate healthcare, low education levels and limited employment opportunities.

Women spend up to eight hours a day in household chores while the young children stay with them. Inefficient use of biomass in the traditional stoves coupled with insufficient ventilation causes severe health hazards, and most of it affects women and girl children.

Households by fuel used for Cooking

Absolute Number

Percentage

 

Total

Rural

Urban

Total

Rural

Urban

Total number of households

24,66,92,667

16,78,26,730

7,88,65,937

100.0

100.0

100.0

Fire-wood

12,08,34,388

10,49,63,972

1,58,70,416

49.0

62.5

20.1

Crop residue

2,18,36,915

2,06,96,938

11,39,977

8.9

12.3

1.4

Cowdung cake

1,96,09,328

1,82,52,466

13,56,862

7.9

10.9

1.7

Coal,Lignite, Charcoal

35,77,035

12,98,968

22,78,067

1.4

0.8

2.9

Kerosene

71,64,589

12,29,476

59,35,113

2.9

0.7

7.5

LPG/ PNG

7,04,22,883

1,91,37,351

5,12,85,532

28.5

11.4

65.0

Electicity

2,35,527

1,18,030

1,17,497

0.1

0.1

0.1

Bio-gas

10,18,978

6,94,384

3,24,594

0.4

0.4

0.4

Any other

11,96,059

10,40,538

1,55,521

0.5

0.6

0.2

No cooking

7,96,965

3,94,607

4,02,358

0.3

0.2

0.5

Source : House listing and Housing Census Data Highlights – 2011, Census of India

More than 62 % households in rural India use fire wood as a source of fuel for cooking. Women often spend as long as eight hours per day on average in collecting fuelwood, and leaf fodder which left them no time to take some income generating activity. Children are significantly involved in collecting firewood, this in turn also induces lower levels of schooling and child health. Kerosene is also a major source of cooking and lighting in rural India. Not only kerosene is costly but also using kerosene leads to ill health. Indoor air pollution from kerosene wick lamps can cause fatal respiratory problems over time. Deaths from accidental fire are also all-too common, particularly among cramped, built-up settlements.

Indoor air pollution

Until recently, the health effects of indoor air pollution have received relatively little attention from the scientific community. Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants. Indoor pollutants can emanate from a range of sources. The health impacts from indoor exposure to combustion products from heating, cooking, and the smoking of tobacco need to be assessed in urban areas, exposure to indoor air pollution has increased due to a variety of reasons, including the construction of more tightly sealed buildings, reduced ventilation, the use of synthetic materials for building and furnishing and the use of chemical products, pesticides, and household care products. Indoor air pollution can begin within the building or be drawn in from outdoors. Other than nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead, there are a number of other pollutants that affect the air quality in an enclosed space.

Specially in developing countries like India the rural area faces the greatest threat of poor Indoor Air Quality where almost 3.5 million people still rely on traditional  fuels such as firewood, charcoal, and cow dung for cooking and heating. Burning such fuels produces large amount of smoke and other air pollutants in the confined space of  home, resulting in high exposure. Women and children are the groups most vulnerable as they spend more time indoors and are exposed to the smoke.

The poor indoor air quality of home can lead to many serious health problems. Some of them are listed below :

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Upper respiratory congestion
  • Blackened Nostrils
  • Rhinitis, nasal congestion (inflammation of the nose, runny nose)
  • Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty of breathing or painful breathing)
  • Pharyngitis (sore throat), cough
  • Wheezing, worsening asthma
  • Severe lung disease

Is there a way out

Use of energy efficient smokeless chulhas and use of cleaner fuels such as solar and biogas are potential solutions which are presently scaling up.

Source: Portal Content Team

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