Most wood energy users in Asia are women. In household activities, they are often responsible for gathering fuelwood, and they do the cooking. Many of the people who are involved in the woodfuel trade or who work in rural industries or commercial enterprises that use woodfuels, are women. This means that in wood energy, gender aspects play an important role.
Households are not homogeneous entities, but consist of men (though not always), women and children who have different responsibilities, opportunities and needs. Generally, women are responsible for in-house activities such as raising the children and preparing food, which includes fuelwood gathering, and men hold control over resources such as land and money. Women also work more hours per day than men do. However, gender roles can be different per country, area and ethnic group. Consequently, men's wishes for improvements related to wood energy do not always correspond with the needs of women, who are the actual woodfuel users. Therefore, when developing and implementing wood energy projects and policies, the role and needs of men and women should be properly acknowledged. Similar to for instance the assessment of environmental impacts, gender analysis should be part of energy policy making.
Ignoring the differences in roles and responsibilities of men and women can lead to ineffective and even adverse interventions. For example, in the past many improved cookstoves programs have failed because it was assumed that stoves that require less fuel would be automatically adopted by households. In fact, the opportunity for women to save time is not always considered valuable. In situations where the man controls the household cash and the woman has no opportunity to earn extra income, the decision-maker (read: the man) may not see the need to spend cash on an improved cookstove. Likewise, leisure time for women is often not considered important by men, so they will not spend cash to reduce women's working hours. It has been observed that in areas where there are opportunities for women to earn income, fuel-saving cookstoves are being adopted more readily.
Equally important is the women's role at the woodfuel supply side. Generally, the women are responsible for woodfuel collection, by gathering from public sources or from private land, such as farmland and homegardens. Several tree planting programs that aimed to increase woodfuel supply have failed because not enough attention was paid to gender roles and needs. The women are usually the ones responsible for tree planting and they are not always enthusiastic about growing trees. Planting and taking care of the trees means extra workload for which they may not have time. When the women do plant trees, the wood may not be available for fuelwood, because the men decide to sell it for cash. Also in the choice of tree species gender plays a role, because men generally prefer trees that can be sold as timber, while women prefer (fast-growing) species that provide them with fuelwood. Fruit trees can be a good compromise.
Many of the people involved in the commercial production and trade of woodfuels are women. For some it is a full-time job, for others it is a source of extra income, or even a survival strategy in times of hardship. In most Asian countries, the commercial woodfuel trade is discouraged and even restricted by permits for tree harvesting and woodfuel transportation. This means that many people face difficulties in earning an income from woodfuel business, and many may not even try because of the obstacles. Removing the restrictions on woodfuel trade would mean better opportunities for people, especially women, to earn extra income.
The difference in responsibilities of men and women, means also that women suffer more from health impacts of wood energy use and production. Many cookstoves are of poor quality and emit pollutants such as carbon monoxide, methane and particulates, due to incomplete combustion. Mostly the women and small children are exposed to these for many hours per day, which can lead to respiratory diseases and cancer. Other major health hazards related to wood energy are fires in kitchens, poor ergonomics of cookstoves, and severe backache due to carrying heavy loads of fuelwood. Again, mostly the women are affected.
Also in data collection activities such as energy surveys, gender aspects play a role, even when gender issues are not the main interest of a survey. For household energy consumption surveys, generally the head of the household is interviewed, who usually is a man. In case the woman is interviewed while the man is present, she may let him answer instead and may not dare to oppose his answers. Since women are the main energy users, men may not be able to give reliable information and they may not be aware of all problems. This can lead to unreliable data, which in turn can result in inappropriate interventions. Using two interviewers to talk to men and women separately can help to overcome this.
This shows that there is a need to "genderize" wood energy data. For example, household income is often considered as an influencing factor in energy consumption and it is used to make forecasts. However, the concept of "household income" is fictitious in many situations. In practice there may be a man's income and a woman's income, even when they share a household.
In the last decades increasing attention has been paid to gender issues in energy. However, this has been limited to projects at household level, for example in improved cookstove programs. At policy level gender issues are still largely being ignored. Gender issues in (wood) energy are not limited to household cooking but also relate to agriculture, rural industries and woodfuel flows. Energy policies often recognize differences in groups of energy users, e.g. industries and households, which results in different measurements for supply and pricing. Likewise, gender aspects need to be recognized and included in energy policies.
RWEDP has organized several activities on gender aspects and issued a Policy Statement on Gender and Wood Energy. During the expert consultation on gender and wood energy in Asia, policy makers of member countries reviewed gender analysis tools and discussed gender issues in wood energy. As follow-up, training materials were developed and two sub-regional training courses were organized for South and Southeast Asia. Also a workshop on wood energy and gender was organized in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China, in cooperation with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. Similar national workshops will be organized in other countries. Gender issues are generally included in all RWEDP training courses.
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© FAO-RWEDP, 1999