| Boiling Point No. 27 - April 1992 |
by Cornelia Sepp, Project Co-ordinator, GATE/GTZ, 1988
Stove projects concentrating on the improvement of women's living conditions can be defined as women's projects. But even when stove projects are primarily ecologically orientated, women must be the focus of interest. Women are affected by the problem of fuel scarcity, exacerbated by their poverty end are therefore the suitable contact point for ecological measures.
In almost all communities women fetch wood and water, build and use fireplaces and provide food for their families. Therefore women are primarily affected by a change in cooking habits or by turning to a new stove. This does not mean that men should be excluded. In some cases it can be necessary and useful to include men as well, for example in disseminating institutional stoves or ovens, which are often operated by men. Also when stoves are to be bought, sometimes the decision is not made by women alone. This is true particularly for stove distribution in towns.
The Problem of Forest Destruction
Proceeding on the assumption that stove projects are supposed to contribute to the mitigation of forest destruction, it is only natural to contact those who are directly and immediately affected. With increasing forest destruction it is the women who spend more and more time gathering wood, fruit, roots, barks and other wild-growing products of the forest. These products are not only used to provide food, but also to make medicines, soap, baskets, ropes and many other things, either to cover their own needs or to be traded. Therefore the scarcity of resources in many places can also cause bigger time expenditure, worse and less diversified nutrition or women's loss in income. At the same time women also contribute to causing the problem: their role in the exploitation and preservation, but also in the destruction of the environment, varies in different societies. It is however highly likely that the continuously increasing exploitation of fuelwood is one of the masons for the increasing forest destruction
Suitability of Women as Contacts
In general it is particularly difficult to work towards ecologically oriented targets, because they only have long-term advantages, which are often not immediately noticeable. Even so, women often have a greater knowledge of environmental problems than men, and are ready to take action quickly. A few of these examples are mentioned here:
• In the Chipko Movement in Northern India women vigorously opposed tree felling by standing protectively in front of the trees, hugging them to protect them from bulldozers.
• A women's organization in Kenya recognized deforestation as a priority national problem and collected money to plant "memorial trees". The money is not only spent on the plantations, but also on the cultivation of the trees for five years.
• In China women planted a wind protection plantation along the coast in the Guangdong Province in 1954. Sandstorms had caused crop failures for several years in succession.
Although it might seem obvious that environmental projects should be planned and carried out with and for women, they are hardly ever considered.
A study of 43 projects conducted by the World Bank and relating to the preservation of the environment or to the exploitation of forest products, showed that only 19 projects (5 agriculture projects, I urban development project and 13 forest projects) had a component referring to the women's interests (World Bank 1980). Women were properly considered in only 8 projects, 6 of which aimed at afforestation. Of the 13 pure forest projects women were mentioned in only 5 projects. This analysis did not include commercial wood production projects. With them the picture would be even more negative for women.
Both the kind of forest project and the approach are orientated towards men's interests and needs. This often makes women's participation very difficult or even impossible.
Some examples of this:
• the assigned advisers are almost always men;
• meetings are often set for times when the women are very busy;
• when choosing the tree species, the use of fruit, bark, leaves or other parts of the tree, have hardly ever been considered;
• in carrying out the Taungya System (mixed agricultural and forestry cultivation) the plots of land are often so large that only men are interested in them.
Many projects which are carried out in the environmental field do not offer any advantages for women, and even have clearly noticeable disadvantages.
In afforestation projects which aim at producing timber or fuelwood there are open clashes of interest between the women in whose vicinity the forest is planted and the townswomen, who are often provided with the wood. Whereas the latter benefit from belter wood supply, women near the plantations lose some of the "bush", which produces less marketable wood but many other products which the women value such as medicinal or herbs, leaves, roots and fruit which do not grow in plantations. Also they can no longer gather dead wood from the bush and in the new plantation gathering or felling wood is strictly forbidden for the local population.
In contrast, stove projects in collaboration with and for women are extremely suitable for environmental preservation.
Stove projects have to fulfil several conditions:
1. The aim of an integrated project must be that women actively participate in carrying out projects, and also directly benefit from them.
2. While planning the project the women's needs have to be studied and considered with a participatory approach. It is only once you have thorough knowledge of women's economic and social role in a certain community that ways can be found first to communicate with them and then to penetrate to their real wishes, worries and needs.
3. In carrying out the project a large number of the administrative and technical personnel and advisers of the project should be women. The activities within the project must correspond to women's capabilities and qualifications in the amount of work, the time planning, the equipment and techniques used, and in the organisation of the work.