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close this bookBoiling Point No. 27 - April 1992 (ITDG - ITDG, 1992, 40 p.)
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View the documentWomen, Woodfuel, Work & Welfare
View the documentFuel Shortages & Women's Health
View the documentImproved Stoves, Time, Fuel
View the documentLess Fuel for Food
View the documentThe Value of Women's Time
View the documentWomen in Stoves Programmes
View the documentThe Effect of Fuel Efficient Stoves
View the documentWe Have Never Felt It So Enjoyable To Cook
View the documentStoves, Forests and Women
View the documentReflecting on Women, Children & Stoves
View the documentLearning as We Teach: A Dialogue with Cooks
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View the documentFuel Collection and Nutrition in Nepal
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The Value of Women's Time

by Peter Watts, Programme Manager, Stoves and Household Energy Programme, ITDG

One of the most important considerations to be taken into account in any rural development project is time. Not in the sense of the planned duration of the project, but rather the way in which time is used by the people who are the intended beneficiaries of the project. For women in particular, a lack of spare time is one of the major constraints to development. Studies have consistently shown that women in rural areas of developing countries work longer hours than men and that much, if not most, of their time is taken up by the essential "survival activities" of food preparation, water hauling and fuel collection (Tinker, 1987). A survey of five villages in southern India showed that women worked for an average of nine hours per day, of which about 55% is devoted to food preparation, 13% to water hauling, and 7% to fuel collection. By contrast, the men in the same villages worked for an average of five hours a day, which is only 55% of a woman's workload and exactly the same amount of time as she spends preparing food (ibid). It has also been shown that poverty and work are directly proportional to one another: the poorer a household, the harder its members must work simply in order to survive.

Because time is a limited commodity, women are required to make rational decisions concerning its use. The basis of those decisions is the contribution that a particular use of time will make towards sustaining the household. If the time required for one activity increases, then women must make a trade-off with time spent on another. Any development programme which aims to increase women's productivity or improve women's welfare must first consider the activities which the women will have to forgo as a result.

The collection and use of fuel provides a particularly apt illustration of the type of decisions that a woman from a poor rural household is required to make. In areas where fuelwood is abundant and its collection requires little time or effort' it tends to be used much less efficiently than in areas of shortage. In the latter case, women have developed "coping mechanisms" such as sheltering the fire, or extinguishing it as soon as they have finished cooking, in order to conserve fuel. The actual time spent on fuel collection and cooking may be the same in both cases, but the amount of fuel and effort used differs significantly.

In areas of severe fuelwood crisis, such coping mechanisms may not in themselves be sufficient. As the amount of time spent on fuel collection increases, cooking time may be sacrificed. There are numerous accounts of women cooking fewer meals per day, or resorting to fastercooking, or less nutritious foods, in order to conserve fuel and so save time (Bronweret al., 1989; Cecelski, 1984). In such situations levels of nutrition will suffer. In cases where a woman cooks the whole day's food at once and leaves it to cool over the course of the day, the incidence of food-borne diseases has been shown to increase.

The main aim of any stoves programme should be to improve the living conditions of women. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to reduce the time spent collecting fuel or cooking, thus allowing women to take part in other productive activities; or to use the same amount of fuel and cooking time to greater effect. Even resting is a productive activity for women who are chronically over worked. Batliwala has shown that nutritional status can be improved simply by reducing energy expenditure, without increasing food intake. This in turn provides the potential for greater productivity. Time savings may not be the principal reason for a stove programme's success, but it can be guaranteed that a stove which increases the amount of time required to collect fuel or to cook will be rejected.

Users of the Anagi stove in Sri Lanka and the Maendeleo in Kenya frequently cite time savings as one of the advantages of their new stove in comparison with the three-stone fire. Time is saved both in cooking, because the fuel is used more efficiently, and in collection, because less fuel is required as a result. In the case of both these stoves, one of the trade-offs the women have had to make is between time and money. The stoves are sold at commercial prices, which is an apparent disincentive to a woman who can build her own three-stone fire for nothing. However, the cooking time which is saved can be put to other productive uses and the average pay-back period for both the Anagi and the Maendeleo is calculated at less than three months. Clarke estimates that the user of an Anagi stove can potentially save herself up to 21 hours per month - equivalent to almost 2 working days.

Women can also use their time advantageously in stove production. In Western Kenya ITDG is training rural women to make Maendeleo stoves. Over the first few months of their involvement, the women must devote a considerable amount of time to training and trial production, in order to ensure the quality of the stoves. This again is a trade-off, between time spent on other income generating activities and the potential income from stove production. The women potters are unanimous that stove production is ultimately more profitable, per unit of time involved, than any other income-generating opportunity available to them. Another advantage is that the women can control the time they devote to stove production, which is an activity they carry out at or near their homes and at times which suit them.

Tinker says, "Any additional activity required or requested as a result of development programming must be carefully weighed by each local woman against her current time allocation to ensure that a change will not leave her and her family worse off than before". Changes must be compatible with - indeed, beneficial to - existing patterns of time use.

It has frequently been said that "if it's not appropriate for women, it's not appropriate". Saving time for women is not only appropriate, it is also most highly valued by the women themselves. A stoves programme which is planned with this in mind can go a long way towards the goal of improving women's welfare.


Batilwala, S., 1981: Rural Energy Scarcity & Nutrition: A New Perspective, Foundation for Research in Community Health
Brouwer, I.D., Nederveen, M.S., den Hartog, A.P., and Vlasveld, M.S. 1989: Nutritional Impacts of an Increasing Fuelwood Shortage in Rural Households in Developing Countries, Progress for Food and Nutrition Science, Vol.13.
Clarke, K. 1990. "Marketing Strategy to Disseminate Improved Stoves throughout Sri Larka", ITDG.
Cecelski, E, 1984. 'The Rural Energy Crisis: Women's Work and Family Welfare: Perspectives & Approaches to Action" ILO Working Paper.
Reddy, AKN et al, 1980: "Rural Energy Consumption Patterns: A
Field Study", ASTRA Timberlake, L., 1985: Africa in Crisis; the Causes, the Cures of Envirorunental Bankruptcy, Earthscan
Tinker, 1., 1987: '´The Real Rural Energy Crisis: Women's Time", The Energy Journal