Blogs tagged as gender

  • Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: It’s Time for Action


    May 29th, 2019

    One Vision Creating Countless Hope.

    Entrepreneur Lily Akhter.

    From a destitute victim of river erosion to a successful entrepreneur, it’s not been an easy path for Lily Akhter (58). After losing everything from river deterioration in 2003, Lily and her husband with their 6 children started their new life in Baitul Aman slum, Faridpur municipality. Her husband’s earnings were not sufficient enough to feed 8 people a day which persuaded her to earn for her family.

    Lily got the idea of the sanitary napkin business from the Delivering Decentralisation project, implemented by Practical Action Bangladesh in association with Faridpur Municipality and local NGOs. This project worked towards institutionalising the participation of slum dwellers in municipal planning and budgeting the uptake of infrastructure technologies with the systems that are appropriate, affordable and maintainable for the long term. Here she received skills training on production, quality assurance and market promotion of sanitary napkins. With very few materials and machinery to start with (swing machine, plastic packaging), she produced her first sanitary napkins, which she sold only to her nearby community. She encouraged the neighbouring women of her community to learn this new earning skill and to get involved with her business. Seeing this innovative business in 2012, the 2nd Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP) of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED), extended cooperation to provide advanced skill training and financial support to expand her business on low cost sanitary napkins ‘APARAJITA’.

    This product is helping numbers of adolescent girls and adult women to have the appropriate sanitary materials for safe and hygienic management of menstruation. This practice of using sanitary napkins amongst the adolescent girl and women progressively reduces the malpractices around menstruation and saves them from severe health crises. She sells her products to neighbouring communities at cheap prices and at the market rate to adjacent hospitals, private clinics and medicine pharmacies. To meet the necessary expenses and remuneration of assistant women workers, she got BDT 10,000 in her hand every month and financial restoration of her family who now have a strong stand. Along with her own financial well-being, she’s created job opportunities for 16 poor unemployed women in her neighbourhood. The popularity of APARAJITA napkins are increasing because of good feedback from the customers.

    Globally, more than half of adolescent girls and women are currently of menstrual age all around the world. Many of them haven’t got access to menstrual hygiene products either, due to limited availability or excessive cost. Recently on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, Lily received an award (3rd prize) and a certificate signed by the Minister from Ministry of Local Government Rural Development and Cooperatives, the Chief Engineer of LGED and from LGED’s urban sector development programmes for her outstanding contribution in self-reliant entrepreneurship. This award has profoundly inspired her to widen her business at a larger scale outside of Faridpur and to help numerous girls and women to have a safe menstruation and diminish the social taboos and stigmas around menstrual hygiene management. She has been selected for a visit to Mysore, India to learn from the My Radha programme which is a flagship initiative of the Indian Government for women in economic empowerment.

    Currently Bangladesh’s Government are preparing a National Strategy for Menstrual Hygiene Management and the impact will only be observed when it is operations are set in stone.  To get this radical action of our Government operational, we need to stand by hundreds of Lily Akhter to make their vision actionable.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Dignifying Lives of Women in Waste Management: Challenges and Way forward


    April 10th, 2019

    Earlier in March at the 2019 UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) I was able to share some initial insights about the gender issues facing women in Bangladesh who earn a living from solid waste management – in collecting rubbish from households and streets or in the recycling or reuse.

    As the urban population of Bangladesh continues to rise, and to rise at rates faster than the rest of South Asia, the challenge of dealing with ever-growing volumes of solid waste is also increasing as well as concerns on the safety and well-being of waste workers who are often on the front-line of providing much needed services to households and communities. Only around 55% of generated waste is ever collected. Currently roles are divided with:

    • Municipalities provide staff who sweep streets. They also provide large communal skips or bins for people to dispose of waste, which they empty and transport to a disposal site
    • NGOs, CBOs or sometimes private companies provide a patchy service of household collection, taking the rubbish to the communal collection points.
    • Informal sector businesses and individuals also make money by picking waste, sorting it, and selling it on to be recycled.

    Gendered roles in the solid waste system

    Women and men play different roles in this system. Women’s participation tends to be limited to jobs at the lower level of the chain including sweeping streets, apartments, markets, offices, and health centers; collection of mixed wastes and supporting their male partners to carry and dispose of waste in the bins/transfer stations. A few women are pick recyclable waste from bins, and help to sort and process wastes at plastic and organic waste recycling companies. As a result, women on average earn half that of men in the sector.

    Working conditions are poor, and women face particular risks

    Both men and women mostly earn money as day labourers. They often lack protective equipment and many suffer illness or injury, but being unable to work means not being paid. They are also not part of insurance or savings schemes. Harassment by employers and law enforcement agencies and disrespect from communities are a regular part of their life. It is hard for them to move into other professions because they are viewed as ‘untouchables’ by others in the community.

    Women face particular risks. Street sweeping or cleaning of shops and offices often takes place at night or the early morning, and working in the dark leaves them vulnerable to harassment or abuse. They often lack access to toilets while they are working, and have not place to rest for a break. This can be even more difficult during menstruation or pregnancy when they may continue to have to deal with heavy workloads.

    Women’s discrimination is overlooked

    These poor working conditions and inequalities for women remain overlooked. This is partly because women have low bargaining power as they participate and engage less in policy, planning, programming and decision-making by national departments, municipalities, recycling companies or other employers.

    The government developed its 3R strategy (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in 2010 and mentioned ‘gender transformative approaches’). However, when it comes to implementation, women’s issues have hardly been addressed at all; neither by national departments, development partners, cites and municipalities or NGOs working in the sector. There has been extremely weak or no co-ordination between organisations involved in women’s rights or labour rights, and the waste management sector. We are hopeful that the recently formed National Task Force might take up these issues and promote better co-ordination. It is being headed by the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (MLGRD&C).

    Practical Action’s work in solid waste management: a new commitment to addressing gender inequalities

    Practical Action has been involved for more than a decade in designing and piloting integrated sustainable waste management scheme in different municipalities of Bangladesh, helping to extend waste services to urban poor communities. Recently we have committed ourselves to doing more to recognise and address gender inequalities.

    Our work takes a systemic approach looking right across the chain from waste generation, separation at household level, up to its collection, transportation and disposal or recycling/re-use. We work with the existing informal sector, both women and men, to help them establish themselves as entrepreneurs, and have a formal space to engage with municipalities. We also support them to improve their relationships with larger recycling companies. We have often done this through performance-based service-level agreements between waste co-operatives and municipalities.

    To get to this point requires a lot of work: assessing the current informal system and presenting the untold stories to municipalities to help them see the financial and service opportunity better engagement offers. Specialized facilitation and soft skills together with convincing facts encourages the municipalities to extend cooperation towards engagement and partnership with business cooperatives of informal workers.

    Informal workers are organised, mobilized and supported to form business organizations where women’s participation is strongly considered both in numbers and positions in the committees. A few cooperatives are exclusively for women who are mostly street sweepers and particularly vulnerable in various ways. Entrepreneurial skills are well taken care of so that members of the cooperatives independently can assess local markets and based on that they can improve their businesses.

    Education and exposure to appropriate technologies are organised specially for women which can significantly reduce physical labor and improve working conditions. Occupational health, hygiene and safety education and knowledge is provided together with on job work and follow up continues until this becomes established practice and habits.

    Practical Action supports municipalities to set up multi stakeholder platforms including representatives from women cooperatives, urban poor communities, NGOs/CSOs, private recycling companies, business organisations and other government organisations for inclusive and integrated waste management planning. Through these platforms, informal workers can advocate for increased annual allocations from municipal budgets, better health and safety provision, and to access a share of the budget allocated to gender concerns. The participation and engagement of women is emphasized in leading campaigns and movements for awareness raising, behavior and practice changes towards safe disposal of wastes.

    Private sector partnerships are encouraged to bring new investment and business skill in establishing treatment plants to recycle organic waste into fertilizer and biogas which creates green jobs and employments (mostly for women) in sorting/separation, processing, quality inspection and packaging, supply and distribution in local and national markets. We are also discussing with Bangladesh Bank and their partners who operate green and other subsidized financial schemes to extend loans to women led entrepreneurs for running the business of waste collection and recycling.

    Taking our learning to key decision-makers

    There are few organisations in Bangladesh who are considering gender inequalities in waste management. Whatever we are learning on the ground, will be captured and shared with key national departments (Local Government Engineering Department -LGED, Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority – SREDA, Department of Environment – DoE, Department of Public Health Engineering – DPHE) for inclusion in national 3R, WASH and municipal development programmes.

    Our initial learning was recently shared in a parallel event at the UN CSW63 conference titled Dignifying lives and empowering women in waste management together with International Labour Oroganisation – ILO and Women in Informal Employments – Globalising and Organising- WIEGO who also work and speak globally for social and economic empowerment of informal women and men waste workers to realise decent jobs and secure their work rights.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Ingenious water and waste solutions changing lives


    March 6th, 2019

    On Friday, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day. People around the world will be celebrating women’s achievements whilst calling for a more gender-balanced world.

    For Practical Action, the day is particularly important. We work with women around the world – helping them find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, made worse by persistent gender inequality. We do this by putting ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world.

    A good example of our ingenious approach to problem solving is the work we do with communities in Choudwar. Choudwar is a busy city in India where a lack of clean water services and inadequate and unsafe sewage management puts lives at risk on a day-to-day basis. Most of the slums don’t have proper toilets. Waste is dumped in local rivers, polluting the water sources.

    We visited one of the slums in Choudwar to understand how difficult it is for people to live under these conditions. During our visit, we met Kamala. She is 75 and lives with her five sons, their wives and children. Her community does not have access to clean water, sanitation or waste management services. People have to go to open fields nearby to relieve themselves and there’s no one to take care of the human waste afterwards.

    As you can imagine, living without a proper toilet and sanitation services is particularly challenging for older women like Kamala. She says: “Different seasons come with different problems. Monsoons are treacherous. The field is slippery. We have to carry water with us all that distance. My legs start to hurt half the way.”

    Practical Action challenges the idea that poor people should have to live in squalor and want to make cities healthier, fairer places for people to live and work. We are working with communities, municipalities and utility companies to deliver sustainable sanitation, water and waste management services. This ingenious combination of different solutions is going to change cities for good and transform the lives of women like Kamala.

    Kamala says, “The new toilets that are being built have given hope to my old and broken bones.”

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Reaching the Last Mile: Challenges and Lessons from Early Warning Systems

    Understanding Risk is a global community of researchers and practitioners working to identify, assess and communicate disaster risk. This year, the fifth Understanding Risk Forum was held in Mexico City. The Forum was attended by 1,050 people from 101 different countries and over 550 organisations, including Practical Action.

    Our session on “Reaching the last mile” focused on communicating risk effectively to the people most vulnerable to disasters. In order for people to protect themselves from hazards, they need to receive information, understand it, and be able to act on the information.

    However, there are many complex barriers faced by vulnerable communities: when information is shared via text message, people without access to a mobile phone can’t receive the information; if information is not communicated in local languages, or if technical or unclear wording is used, people who receive the information may not be able to understand it; and if people don’t know what actions to take, are afraid of losing their possessions, don’t have anywhere safe to go, or do not have decision-making power, they will not be able to act on the information.

    Within vulnerable communities, factors including age, gender, ethnicity, literacy levels, physical capacity and poverty affect the needs, priorities and abilities of people to access, understand, and respond to information.

    For example, a study that Practical Action is conducting in Nepal and Peru found that women and men often have different roles in evacuation. In addition, women experience unique difficulties evacuating related to their gender, presenting challenges related to their clothing, hair length, caring roles and responsibilities, lesser physical strength, and inability to swim. Perhaps because of these challenges, women prefer to evacuate earlier than men. However, because women lack decision-making power, they are often unable to take action until men decide to evacuate, by which time evacuation routes are more dangerous, particularly for women, presenting them with additional risks.

    We were joined in our session by colleagues from BBC Media Action, the UK Met Office, Soluciones Practicas (our Latin America office), and the German Red Cross.

    Lisa Robinson from BBC Media Action shared examples of their work in Bangladesh, where they partner with a local radio station, Oromia Radio, to broadcast a short radio magazine programme which provides practical advice on agriculture, water, sanitation and shelter.

    They also broadcast a reality television series which visits vulnerable communities as they work with their neighbours and local government to build their resilience. They have found that their audiences and listeners trust this information because it is in their native language, specific to where they are, and is easy to understand. As a result, people are using this information to make decisions.

    At the other delivery end, the UK Met Office is working to build the capacity of national meteorological services in hazard-prone countries. Nyree Pinder highlighted the key role that meteorological agencies have in identifying and communicating risk as they work within the government to protect lives and livelihoods. The UK Met Office is working through a range of programmes to build the capacity of national and regional meteorological services to improve climate information services, and is moving towards impact-based forecasting to better meet the needs of vulnerable communities.

    David Lau from Soluciones Practicas highlighted how the team in Peru are engaging with the community to build resilience. As well as installing solar-powered field monitoring stations to measure rainfall using photographs and soil saturation, community groups (brigades) are formed and supported to use these stations, issue evacuation alerts, and conduct drills. In this way, knowledge is owned and trusted by the community, supporting improved resilience in the long term.

    Mathieu Destrooper from the German Red Cross then demonstrated how the early warning system in Peru could be improved to give vulnerable communities more time to prepare: combining upstream water levels, rain forecasts and soil moisture levels could increase the time available from one to five hours, to one to five days.

    However, as well as improving forecasts, there are key questions to consider regarding how to guarantee early action being taken at the community level. Context will affect whether early warning systems are best managed locally or nationally, how to define thresholds for alerting and taking action, and how to share warning information.

    The session brought together a range of voices, perspectives and experiences in reaching the last mile. Our panellists worked in different countries, with different stakeholders and at different levels, engaging with national and local government, media, and directly with community members.

    Across this broad range of experience, a key factor emerged consistently: there are a multitude of factors which affect people’s vulnerability to and experience of disasters. Our work on early warning systems must be context-specific and tailored to the needs of the people who have to respond to warnings in order to ensure action is taken and lives are saved.

    Related links

    Reaching the last mile: addressing gender inequality in early warning systems

    Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact

    Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

    How the community in Bangladesh prepares for Cyclones – BBC Media Action

    Early warning systems are a key component of community resilience to disasters and have the potential to save lives and livelihoods in hazard-prone communities.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Sustainable Energy for All Forum: Finding answers to the HOW

    Sustainable Energy for All Forum

    Energy access for all: the WHAT followed by the HOW

    Energy access has been recognized as a golden thread to enable other SDGs, with successful earmarks such as the Paris Agreement and inclusion of a dedicated sustainable development goal; both of which urge the international community to find pathways to deliver sustainable energy access to the more than one billion unserved people. (more…)

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Women as a force to build resilience


    March 8th, 2018

    Many risk drivers are created by development choices at global or national levels, but all are manifested at the local level, so local people must be central to risk reduction practice. But it is important to recognise that in these communities it is the disabled, elderly, women and girls who are the most at risk. For example, women accounted for 61% of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70-80% in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 91% in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh[i]

    But women often have the weakest voice and the least opportunity or face restrictions of their voice being heard or listened to, but this shouldn’t be the case when they make up half of the adult population. Social norms around gender mean that women’s circumstances, for instance clothing and level of mobility, affect their ability to respond to sudden events. Exclusion means that women remain overlooked, resulting in preparedness and response measures that ignore their particular needs and in the worst cases actually exacerbate their risk. Unless gender equality is realised, planning will continue to add additional weight to women’s multiple burdens as care givers.

    The critical need to address gender differences in development is well established and has been acknowledged globally at the highest levels, although there is still a long way to go to achieve these lofty aspirations. This was best articulated by the women’s major group at Sendai, who commented that “…however, women are often included together with girls and marginalized groups, furthering the ‘victim’ paradigm; the term ‘gender equality’ does not appear in the text, nor is there a reference to women’s human rights[ii].

    There is nothing natural about disasters, disasters occur when development goes wrong. Disasters often highlight existing gender based imbalances and inequalities in societies; reflecting vulnerabilities as well as capacities embedded in the social systems and in the economic context of development. It is therefore paramount that responsible development is inclusive development, that women are central to development efforts, and challenge existing practices and norms so that we all #Pushforprogress.

    Practical Actions Disaster Risk Reduction programme acknowledges the central role of women in disaster risk reduction; that women and girls – like men and boys – possess skills and capacity to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis, and to manage risk and build resilience over the longer term.

    In Bangladesh one of the biggest challenges during the annual flood season is access to clean water. One way to provide clean water in spite of flooding is the construction of raised plinth tube wells allowing families to stay at home, and saving them the inconvenience to relocate. In discussions with communities women report psychological benefits of not being compelled to relocate and the assurance that the water supply they are using is unlikely to cause sickness to their family.

     

    But local decisions are decided by the Community Based Organisation, and getting women onto these bodies is vital. It is important that the voice of half of the community is heard in the decision making process. The CBO will decide on the location of improved raised plinth wells, so women must have a voice to ensure that they are located where women feel comfortable accessing them. In our flood resilience project in Sirajganj we have focussed on capacity building of CBO’s and of 16 CBOs established so far women lead seven.

    Therefore, gender equality is not a choice but an imperative. At Practical Action to ensure that we are true to this principle, we recognise that disaster risk reduction must be inclusive. We need to continually strengthen the gender skills and gender diversity across our teams. We need to strengthen the quality of our M&E work, with gendered outcomes identified from the beginning and data disaggregated by gender from the outset. This will not only help us better understand what works in different contexts and respond to these in the future, but deliver comprehensive DRR that changes systems and sets in place preparation,  prevention and transformations that deliver resilience for all.

    #IWD2018 #InclusionMatters #Pushforprogress

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [i] UNDP, 2013: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/gender/Gender%20and%20Environment/PB3-AP-Gender-and-disaster-risk-reduction.pdf

    [ii] http://wedo.org/where-are-womens-rights-in-the-sendai-framework-for-drr/

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Universal energy access: what’s gender got to do with it?


    April 20th, 2017
    Written in partnership with Mariama Kamara, Founder and Director, Smiling Through Light

    The energy sector is traditionally male-dominated with men’s access to better education, skills training, and finance enabling them to develop businesses and access markets that women have often been excluded from as a result of gendered social norms and women’s unpaid care work. In the energy world, the role of women has often been limited to that of consumers; particularly in relation to the household sphere and cooking practices. The benefits of clean cooking fuels and technologies on women and girls is championed on global platforms; and women are being increasingly recognised as important to energy access planning processes. What benefits arise, though, when we embrace and empower women as agents of change who are actively striving for, and driving us towards, Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?

    CSW61: Women as Agents of Change

    Last month, at the UN’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), Practical Action hosted a parallel session exploring just that: Women as Agents of Change in Sustainable Energy Access Value Chains. The session, which heard from  Practical Action’s Sudan and East Africa offices, Smiling through Light, Energy Research Institute Sudan, and Solar Sister, demonstrated that investing in women’s potential as entrepreneurs, technicians, policy-makers and thought-leaders is vital for achieving gender-transformative outcomes and more effective energy access approaches.

    Image of the panellists and organising team of Practical Action's event at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, on women as change agents in sustainable energy access value chains.

    CSW panel members from left to right: Mariama Kamara (Smiling Through Light), Dr Sawsan Sanhory (Energy Research Institute Sudan), Neha Misra (Solar Sister), Muna Eltahir (Practical Action Sudan), Charlotte Taylor (Practical Action), Samah Omer (Practical Action Sudan), Lydia Muchiri (Practical Action East Africa).

    Gender Equality + Sustainable Energy Access = Opportunity for All

    Across the panellists’ different experiences, from the grassroots initiative of Smiling Through Light to the global campaign of Solar Sister, a clear message could be heard: at the intersection of gender equality and sustainable energy access lies vast potential – for women’s economic empowerment, certainly, and also for sustainable development and improved wellbeing for their communities and beyond.

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    The keynote speech, delivered by Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action East Africa, explored the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya project (WEEK). Delivered in partnership with Energia, this project empowers women as providers of energy across three value chains – improved cookstoves, solar products, and biomass briquettes – in the roles of producers, suppliers and ‘brand activators’. WEEK project activities support women to build their social capital, develop fundamental business skills, and improve their confidence as entrepreneurs; these women now drive behaviour change, convincing others to adopt clean energy options. Five WEEK project entrepreneurs appeared at the recent SEforAll Forum to share their experiences, demonstrating a growing appetite to hear rural women’s grassroots knowledge on global stages.

    Smiling Through Light: be the change that you want to see

    Smiling Through Light’s Founder and Director Mariama Kamara highlighted the centrality of women’s knowledge, empowerment and collective action to building environmentally sustainable pathways to sustainable energy access; emphasising in particular the diverse roles women play across the energy value chain from production and transportation, to distribution and end use. At the age of nine Mariama left Sierra Leone during the civil war; after later learning that energy use in Sierra Leone was still mostly limited to kerosene for lighting, with no access to clean energy services, she started Smiling Through Light in 2014. By doing so, Mariama became the change she wanted to see. Smiling Through Light now advocates for women, as primary consumers and users of clean energy products, to be integrated into the process of designing appropriate solutions and engaged throughout the value chain to improve their livelihoods.

    The path to SDG7

    There remain many clear opportunities to advance women’s positions across the energy access value chain, including:

    Policy – Advocate for policy that goes beyond perceiving women as victims of energy poverty or mere consumers, but as potential drivers of the sector. Embrace and lobby for the critical role of smaller, distributed energy solutions in addressing rural energy poverty, and women’s unique contribution to this sector.

    Finance – Recognise that women’s access to finance is often constrained by social, political and economic constraints; i.e. collateral requirements based on land or asset ownership. Dedicate specific financing, credit facilities, grants and concessional loans to women’s sustainable energy activities.

    Skills – Address the significant skills and local workforce development gaps in energy access in a way that empowers more skilled women to participate across the value chain, and educates others on the value of their contributions.

    Evidence – Continue to build evidence to help inform policy on why women in clean energy value chains are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact; bringing local women entrepreneurs and decision-makers’ voices and experiences to the fore.

    An entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    An entrepreneur from the WEEK project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    As energy access advocates and champions of gender equality we must continue to find opportunities, like at CSW61, to demonstrate the positive impacts that women’s economic empowerment in energy access initiatives has for themselves and their families, as well as their extended communities and international development practice more broadly. We need to continue challenging damaging gendered social norms which disempower women as change-makers; and simultaneously strengthen policy coordination, knowledge sharing, financial inclusion, programmatic partnerships and research to advance women’s participation in sustainable energy development for all.

     

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Success story of a water initiative


    April 19th, 2017

    Haladete-East is a village located 40 km North from the city of Kassala, Eastern Sudan. It is a home of over 4,800 people, from which 2,850 are women. This is a story of an amazing water initiative that benefited not only one family but the entire village of Haladete-East!

    Access to water has always been a serious problem in Haladete-East. Because there was no water nearby, people had to walk every day nearly three hours, through deserted roads, to collect water. Their only source of water was a remote hand-pump that was unreliable. The walks to collect water were tough and because of the heavy weight, only limited amount of water could be brought back to the village. Because of this, water could only be used to absolute necessities such as cooking and drinking.

    To solve the problem, Practical Action launched a project called Aqua4East. The project, funded by DFID, aimed to improve the water security for the benefit of the whole community. To do this, Practical Action needed to build a water tank that would be big enough to provide water for 4800 people!

    The first step in the project was to identify a location with a steady underground water supply (through hydrological studies and water catchment surveys). This ensured that the water supply would not run dry – even during the driest times. Once the right location was selected, Practical Action build the water tank, including two different distribution stations. One station was for women and the other for men. Each station included six water taps.

    What makes this project so special, is the substantial community engagement. With the help of Practical Action, people living in the village established a Water Committee that looked after the management of the water distribution, including financial management and preparations should a damage occur.

    Because of the Aqua for East initiative, the life of the people living in Haladete-East is now easier, healthier, more dignified and joyful. To summarise:

    1. People do not need to walk long distances to collect water anymore. They now have an easy access to clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. In addition, small scale farming and animal farming have benefited from the secured water supply.

    2. The initiative has had a tremendous impact on improved hygiene. Villagers are now able to wash their hands and shower more often, to do laundry and clean their homes. Furthermore, the food is less contaminated and diet more healthier due to in-house cultivated vegetables.

    3. More girls are going to school instead of collecting water. In addition, they have more time to socialise and participate in income generating activities.

    Nafish O’shak, one of the villagers, said: Before, the community health promoters used to give us strong hygiene advice, but without water we could not do what we were advised to do. Now we have sufficient water and we are very hygienic. Our clothes, food and houses are extremely clean.

    Is that a revolutionary impact or what?

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Gender Transformative Change Is Our Priority


    March 31st, 2017

    The gender is at the center in our new Strategic Business Plan (SBP) 2017 to 2020. In terms of gender, the main shift in the strategic period is gender mainstreaming to gender transformation.

    The gender transformation process dedicates to rigorous gender analysis on capacity enhancement, institutional strengthen, research and development of gender responsive policies through meaningful participation of women and men. The transformative change process goes beyond identifying and exploring the symptoms of gender equality, socially constructed norms, attitudes, and relations of power that underline the cause of limitation of men and women.

    In context of Nepal, women are confined to the domestic spheres mostly in rural areas due to socially embedded and culturally accepted gender roles and responsibilities. So, this process examines the questions and seeks to change the rigid gender norms that causes power imbalances by encouraging critical awareness. The change process of gender transformation mainly focuses to unfold the causes and consequences of existing gender values and addresses them accordingly. This change process further encourages the society to promote the position of women by challenging the unequal distribution of resources and allocation regarding the power relationships. There are four different pillars for gender transformative change, they are:

    Pic. 1

    Source: ICIMOD’s strategic approach towards gender equity and analysis 2013-2017

    The first and foremost area that needs to be focused is capacity of women’s leadership. It helps to respond to the need and requirement of an organisation’s future strategy. The development of new policies and strengthening of existing policies from gender perspectives support women in leadership and decision making positions. Such policies support including the socially excluded, economically poor, and vulnerable in terms of disaster risk reduction and those deprived of access to information and resources. It further encourages partnering with like-minded government, non-government organisations and civil societies, additionally, the research on GESI helps to provide evidence for the areas of concentration to bring the gender transformation change in an organisation.

    In context of Practical Action, Nepal office, there are two areas that need to focus. They are;

    1. Capacity strengthening and women’s leadership
    • Focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) through project activities
    • Capacity building on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) of staff and partners
    • Initiate the Gender Audit through our existing projects
    1. Inclusive policies and partnerships
    • Focus to implement of existing policies and development of new policies/ guidelines if required
    • Partnership with like minded organizations to contribute on GESI areas in the implementation level

    This comprehensive understanding of empowerment requires, not only the increase of women’s individual agency, but also changes to transform the structural barriers in order to shift social and cultural norms. This can be measured by examining three broad  domains of transformative changes on empowerment, they are:

    Agencies: Individual and institutional knowledge, skills and abilities

    Relations: Complex and multi-dimensional and pervasive relationships to analyse through diversified tools and techniques

    Structures: Power relationships governing collective, individual and institutional practices

    Pic. 2

    Source: Measuring gender-transformative change (Oct. 2015), Care USA for WorldFish and the CGIAR Research Programme on Aquatic Agricultural Systems

    These dimensions help re-frame the discourse of empower to focus on women’s individual agency to collect responsibilities and actions.

    Overall, the gender transformative change impacts on institutional and individual level through gender inclusive policies keeping the women in front line positions in development interventions. This leads to rights of women along with gender related expectations. Eventually, it provides insights for gender transformative actions at organisation and programme implementation levels. Gender is so central to our new strategy. So, considering our organizational priorities, gender tansformative change is one of them.

     

    2 Comments » | Add your comment