The Deadly Power of a Cookstove

2016—the year of a vociferous political climate, monumental policy changes, and finally the year of a forceful push toward gender equality. As an 18-year-old college freshman, I have recognized for years the existing gender gap, but I did not realize that something as simple as a cookstove could be an immense obstacle for closing the gender gap.

I was a junior in high school when I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Radha Muthiah, and other esteemed women advocates promote the discourse about deleterious effects of climate justice on the global population, especially women. After listening to this Women In Peace panel, I truly realized that a girl’s fight across the globe, is also my fight; it is our fight.ha-gaccI am impassioned about the implications of primitive cooking methods because the effects are primarily on the health of women in low-income parts of the world. The underlying matter is that while open fire cooking and the burning of biomass and coal causes a significantly negative impact on the environment, a climate justice advocate would acknowledge the effects will continue to play a role in the health and wellbeing of people around the world.

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According to the World Health Organization, over 4 million people die each year because of debilitating chronic illnesses caused by inhalation of particulate matter when using traditional cooking methods. The chronic conditions are ubiquitous and include lung cancer, recurrent pneumonia, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. With little to no access to healthcare for many suffering from cooking-related chronic conditions, suffering increases for many families and puts a halt to the productivity of many families, pushing them further into poverty.

With ancient cooking methods, the gender gap inevitably arises. Women experience Time Poverty—the lack of time and unpaid labor that women are subjected to. Melinda Gates addresses Time Poverty in her annual letter stating that “Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work.” In developing nations, women spend time collecting fuel and then cooking, not to mention taking care of children and other stereotypical household tasks that women are usually delegated to do. Melinda Gates also described what girls and women could do with their time instead of spending time gathering and collecting fuel and then cooking.

“Girls in poorer countries might say they’d use extra time to do their homework. Housework comes first, so girls often fall behind in school. Global statistics show that it’s increasingly girls, not boys, who don’t know how to read. Mothers might say they’d go to the doctor. In poor countries, moms are usually responsible for their kids’ health. But breastfeeding and traveling to the clinic take time, and research shows that health care is one of the first trade-offs women make when they’re too busy.”

—Melinda Gates

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Be reminded whenever you use an electric cookstove, you have the amazing power to use your time for the greater good. With something as simple as an electric cookstove, you have infinite possibilities and time to achieve the life you want and to be productive. While we all take cooking with electric cookstove for granted, it is so important for each of us to realize the incredible obstacles and injustice that inappropriate cooking methods can place on for women and their families. It is imperative that we advocate for the elimination of these improper cooking methods and social injustice, which in turn will progress the movement for climate justice.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a United Nations Alliance dedicated to combatting use of primitive cooking methods. This organization also fights for 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Images: Gumilang Aryo Sawhadew / Flickr Creative Commons, CAFOD / Flickr Creative Commons

The Linkage Between Child Marriage and Maternal Health

How can we improve maternal and newborn health for girls, women and children around the world?

Tackle child, early and forced marriage.

Last month, world leaders came together and agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals that will shape our world until 2030. The third of these, to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, includes the following targets:

  • By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
  • By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births

In a world where each day, 800 women die from complications before, during or after pregnancy, and the annual infant mortality rate remains at 4.5 million, these targets have the potential to change the fate of millions of girls, women and children.

Maternal and newborn health remain inextricably linked to the practice of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), and progress cannot be made without a widespread understanding of the connection. According to Plan International’s ‘A girl’s right to say no to marriage’, most adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage. Child, early and forced marriage is therefore not only a serious violation of girls’ and women’s rights, but a global health issue to be tackled at community, national and global level as part of the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs.

For adolescent girls, the risk of complication during pregnancy and childbirth is dangerously high – miscarriage, obstructed labour and obstetric fistula are a few examples from a list of many. Babies born to young mothers have a higher chance of being stillborn or premature, and girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.

The social pressure on girls who have been married early, or who have been forced into marriage, intensifies the risks to health and wellbeing. In many communities, the expectation that a new bride will have frequent pregnancies from the beginning of her marriage puts immeasurable strain on both her body and her mind, and removes any choice she might otherwise have over her own reproduction.

If maternal and newborn health is to see sustainable improvement by 2030, focused efforts must be made to end CEFM. We already have a reason to celebrate, as the practice is mentioned specifically within Goal 5 (“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”):

  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Next week global leaders, advocates and policy-makers are convening at the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Mexico City, where they will come together and discuss how to protect the health of mothers and children around the world. Child, early and forced marriage is one lens of many through which maternal and newborn health can be looked at, but if we consider that a 10% reduction in child marriage could be associated with a 70%, it certainly seems like an important view.

 

Girls’ Globe will be attending the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference and provide live coverage through blog posts, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and more. Follow along using #GlobalMNH.

Featured image: DFID, UNFPA and Plan International are working in Zambia to end child marriage through education, advocacy and policy work. Photo: Jessica Lea/DFIF.