Impact on the wellbeing of women living in the world’s remote rural areas. What is the role and impacts of technology and innovation?

By Jacqueline Sanchez

Imagine a fresh homemade meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by you or your mother every day. Sounds delicious, right? But what does it imply for women living in remote rural areas of the world where biomass remains the primary energy source?

Roughly three billion people (nearly 45% of the world population) rely on traditional use of biomass for cooking. Given this dependency on biomass, women in rural areas are exposed to high levels of black carbon as they go about food preparation. They inhale it for prolonged periods of time causing health problems such as respiratory issues, blurry vision, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even lung cancer.

Black carbon is categorized as a potent climate-warming component that stays days or weeks in the atmosphere. Even it is short-lived, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has determined that “black carbon has a warming impact on climate 460-1,500 times stronger than CO2 per unit of mass.”

Women and Their Daily Chores.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, REN21 released an “Estimated Renewable Share of Total Final Energy Consumption” study in 2017 that found that from the total renewable sources share of 18%, 7.5% comes from traditional biomass use. Traditional biomass releases emissions that have a great impact to global climate change including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and other with lower impact as carbon monoxide (CO), black carbon and brown carbon.

The use of traditional biomass is a main source of energy in the rural world to cover basic needs such as cooking and heating. Cooking is considered an activity associated directly with women and is perceived as a global gender issue that directly affects rural areas due to lack of access to efficient fuels for energy transformation. Women mainly run the household activities including providing the majority of fuels needed for the household energy needs and cooking.

Women, Human Rights and Climate Change

The Conference of the Parties or COP 25 took place in 2019 and was hosted by the government of Chile with support of the government of Spain. One of the main goals of the meeting was to set key actions to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change. The Paris Agreement emerged from the COP21 in France in December 2015. At that meeting, the United Nations declared that “parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future.” In order to support combating climate change and adapting to its effects, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights implemented in 1979 states that citizens have 1) the right to work in just and favorable conditions; 2) The right to social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being.

The climate change, human rights and gender nexus is an important area of development, especially after looking at the needs of women living in rural and remote areas. The United Nations’ list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” For instance, Goal #5 focuses on Gender Equality: “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” and Goal #7 on Affordable and clean energy: “Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

Women are the main providers of households’ total efforts of collecting biomass materials. They also have an average working day of 11-14 hours compared to only 10 hours on average for men. A longer working day for women has resulted in reducing the time spent with their children and their opportunity to improve their wellbeing and accessing economic or educational endeavors.

The Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves states that, “A reduction in time spent collecting fuel and cooking may enable women to spend more time with their children and to have access to other responsibilities that could enhance their existing economic and educational opportunities, all of which contribute to poverty alleviation.”

In regards to access to developed energy services there is a great importance on human needs as addressing basic energy services as electricity, health, education, but not excluding the use of the modern fuels and clean technologies for cooking.

But, what can change the panorama? Perhaps technological developments.

How can energy technology and innovation solutions support climate change mitigation measures, which will eventually support women’s wellbeing living in remote rural areas of the world? Despite climate change how can women continue exercising their human rights? Energy technology and innovation solutions are key players to improve the wellbeing of women. There are current available solutions and others still in research and development that could emerge to allow benefits at a larger scale.

Immediate solutions include Green stoves or improved stoves that are types of smart clean cooking technologies that allow the user to cook faster, to reduce fuel use, smoke, and toxic emissions. They contribute to climate change deceleration and enable women to have cleaner air in their surroundings while conducting their daily chores and improving their wellbeing.

Another type of solution is adding information technologies that can monitor the use of the green stoves or improved stoves. An analytics company has recently launched a solution for this technology. A sensor placed on a green or improved stove to monitor and upload cooking event data to a server in near real time. The sensor works with cellular networks, operates in remote conditions at high temperatures (up to 300°C or 572°F), transmits data automatically via GPRS or SMS, and accommodates limited and intermittent power availability. The company has created a payment scheme that provides women with a small revenue every time it receives information from their stove.  This solution has been tested in rural areas for several years and aims to scaling climate solutions.

Microgrids can also be an ultimate innovation for these rural and remote communities. These energy solutions are increasingly more sustainable as they integrate power from renewable energy sources. They are also more robust and have the ability to control the grid in real time by balancing the high levels of power coming in with the variable loads, and therefore, reducing intermittency.

The final question will rely on the financing factor of deploying energy technology and innovative solutions to them. With these solutions continuing their development towards a more sustainable future, will the access to them will also be at ease for women living in the world’s remote rural areas looking for a wellbeing and making use of their human rights?

The role of financing is imperative to implement the use of the different energy technologies and innovative solutions in rural areas of the world. For instance, there are several stakeholders that can contribute to this goal, including government funds, private financial institutions, project developers as well as entrepreneurs with the creation of crowdfunding efforts.

Governments have the option to support different causes in the community. Creating funds dedicated to these causes can support rural communities through social programs and greener solutions targeting women’s wellbeing.

Private financial institutions can be able to create micro credit schemes that will let women access these technologies at lower rates adapted to their family income possibilities.

Project developers can implement social projects when developing energy or infrastructure projects near the targeted community to support women’s wellbeing and the community in general.

Crowdfunding is a concept that allows the general public to support social entrepreneur companies dedicated to allocating solutions for social benefit and can be a robust financial platform as it can reach many potential investors and supporters through social media.

In Conclusion

Energy technology and innovation solutions will allow women in remote and rural areas of the world to improve their wellbeing by reducing – if not eliminating – their reliance to biomass and exposure to black carbon and will at the same time benefit climate change mitigation.

Nearly 3 billion people – principally women – cook their meals with firewood releasing black carbon to the atmosphere. Therefore, the use of technology and innovation solutions will allow women to use renewable and cleaner sources for energy to significantly support their wellbeing and reduce emissions to the atmosphere. Undertaking these measures will positively influence and quickly contribute to climate change deceleration.

Finally, technologies will play an important role in future generations and will support women’ human rights by allowing them to exercise the right to work in just and favorable conditions and that of social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being.