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Empowerment starts with rural development
by Robyn L
Africa / US Energy Ministerial Conference & Women in Energy
source: Village Power 2000

Durban, South Africa •• Dec. 11, 2000 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• Syda Bbumba, Minister of Energy and mineral Development in Uganda gave an inspring and extremely relevant lecture on the subject of Gender and Energy.

She began by stating that women were the majority consumers and producers of energy. Firewood used for a variety of household tasks accounts for 95% of energy consumption in Uganda. Women are exposed to hazards during collection of this fuel: the long walks through woodland areas result in pysical assault, and the burning of this fuel results in a thick smoke being inhaled by these women. This in turn poses serious health risks to these women, especially if they are pregnant.

"Povery is painted with a woman's face" was Minister Bbumba's next point. The economic survival of a household is reliant on the woman, as she collects fuel and cooks food, often tilling the land and taking part in cultivation. However, after child-bearing, women are weak and cannot support their family as before. Thus the family is reduced to poverty. Minister Bbumba believes that women should be consulted in all matters of the home, especially monetary matters, breaking away from the traditional role of the man taking full responsibility for the money of the household. The woman is the one who uses appliances and understands what is needed for the household and thus they should be consulted. The traditional descision-making roles should be shuffled and shared.

Indeed, in many African countries, a woman's access to money is very limited. As aforesaid, the man traditionally handles all monetary matters, and must first be convinced if he is to purchase goods for the woman. Banks will not allow loans to be made available to the woman without a husband's signature. Thus women have no access to funds for education or access to new innovations. This fact is proven by the fact that the largest group of illiterate people in Africa is women.

Minister Bbumba's solution is that women must be involved in energy descisions and porgrammes. Often, the limited involvement of women results in the limited success and sustainability of projects. Energy projects and initiatives must take into account family size, cooking practices and the traditional methods of cooking: traditionally, a man's food must be warm when he returns home, regardless of when it was cooked, thus cooking devices distributed must include a heating component. Minister Bbumba claims that devices excluding these traditional customs are "designed to fail a marriage!"
Minister Bbumba also believes that providing better access to modern technologies can help empower women. Solar power would remove the health risks of fuel burning, and the use of boimass would improve efficiency of tools.

In conclusion, Minister Bbumba left the leaders at the conference a challenge: to involve women in energy descisions and empower them through energy. She closed with the words "it is he who feels the pain who knows how it hurts, not the sympathizer"


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