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Harnessing girl power: From victims of climate change to agents of change

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May 2018

“Climate change has usually been considered as men’s work. We often see women’s participation limited to post-disaster cleanup campaigns or as recipients of awareness-raising on the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle.”


However, upon closer review, it is clear that women are predominantly at the frontlines of managing natural resource use and consumption patterns at the household- and community-levels, added Linda Adams, ADB senior social development specialist and project officer for the regional technical assistance (TA) Harnessing Climate Change Mitigation Initiatives to Benefit Women. Rather than marginalizing women as passive energy and water users and sanitation managers, we need to include them as part of the solution in tackling climate change, she pointed out.

The TA project, completed in 2017, adopted a multi-layered approach to address this gap. This involved capacity development of relevant government agencies responsible for climate change and gender mainstreaming, increasing women’s voice and leadership in climate change policymaking and action plans, and developing and implementing pilot projects that improved women’s access to clean energy technologies and established female-led enterprises, as well as climate finance that rewards gender-related mitigation measures.

Of the three components, the pilot projects – implemented in the three countries covered by the TA: Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam – were instrumental in demonstrating the benefits of integrating women as critical agents in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to national and sector climate change mitigation strategies and plans and providing gender co-benefits such as increased incomes and less time spent to secure household fuel needs. In Cambodia and Lao PDR, the pilot established women-led improved cookstove production centers and associated stove components centers, while in Viet Nam female biogas masons were trained and accredited and women's biogas mason enterprises were put up, contributing to national program targets. 

For the women who joined, the initiatives not only meant being able to help care for the environment, mitigate climate impacts, and earn additional livelihood, but also it provided them a realization of their own potential, new leadership roles, and respect in their communities.


Linda Adams
Senior Social Development Specialist
Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division

Cambodia: Cookstoves boost women’s confidence

In Cambodia, especially in rural areas, “traditional gender roles are deeply embedded in the social psyche of a very large proportion of women and men,” according to a brief prepared by SNV Netherlands Development Organization and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), partners of the TA project. The perception is women simply take care of domestic duties, such as cooking, or at best limited to helping with farm work and selling products in informal street stalls.

To empower women, the pilot project enlisted the support of LES (Light Engineering Solutions), an advanced cookstove distributor in Phnom Penh, to include women in its supply chain. About 67 women were recruited as sales agents. They had to promote the cookstoves around villages, sharing the advantages of using low-emission technology.

Women as cookstove sales agents were a logical choice given that they are the primary users of cookstoves and usually have established female and community networks. However, initial capacity needs assessments carried out revealed that women lacked confidence and were constrained with inadequate marketing skills, restrictive household relationships, and limited mobility.

“When I was first contacted by Mr. Chanty from LES, I hesitated to engage in distributing the stove as I never had any experience and I did not trust the quality of the product,” said Un Lim, now a top female sales agent.

To boost their self-esteem and skills, capacity building was done, such as on product knowledge, marketing, and bookkeeping, as well as how to organize stove demonstrations among the communities. In addition, discussions with the women’s families were conducted so that the husband and other family members would be supportive. They were also loaned a cookstove so they could be more familiar with the product without having to shell out their own savings. And to build trust among customers, the women were taught how to do basic repairs, and if more serious concerns came up, they could call the supply company.

Lim said, “Unexpectedly, I have sold 35 stoves, generating around $280. My husband appreciates my work and even helps with household chores when I am out promoting the stove.”

Each cookstove reduces approximately 1 ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) of emissions per year. Based on the 2017 SNV and IGES brief, some 500 stoves have been sold by female agents, reducing 500 tons of CO2 emissions annually or 1,500 tons over the expected three-year lifetime of the stove. In some areas, where there is a proliferation of palm fruit, customers utilize discarded palm fruits as fuel instead of firewood, reducing waste and chopping of wood.

The pilot has been such a success that women now represent about 70% of sales agents for the advanced biomass stoves, shared Adams.

Lao PDR: Disabled women learn to produce cookstoves  

Similar to the initiative in Cambodia, the goal was to integrate more women into the supply chain of fuel-efficient cookstoves. The TA project team built on existing efforts of the European Union-funded Switch-Asia Improved Cook Stoves (ICS) project, which focused on creating a sustainable supply chain of ICS, by introducing a gender dimension.

Unlike Cambodia, though, women here were part of the production process. Collaborating with a local organization, the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC), an ICS production center was established. The TA project team tailored the support to the needs of the women, modifying both tools and coaching strategy.

The pilot was not without challenges, according to SNV and IGES. The women had to adjust with the heavy work and organizing themselves in terms of management, pay, and production output and quality. Still, they were able to produce more than 1,300 stoves by the end of the 2016.

Moreover, through the ICS pilot, the TA project team was able to pursue carbon finance under the standard and certification body Voluntary Gold Standard, receiving 40,000 credits in February 2017.

These cookstoves reduce the use of wood and charcoal by up to 20%, and they last up to four times longer than a traditional stove, the team noted. Other co-benefits include less smoke, which is better for women and children’s health, and lower greenhouse emissions. 

Viet Nam: Breaking gender stereotypes by building bio-digesters 

In Dong Hoi, Viet Nam, many households raise pigs without managing the waste because of lack of knowledge and/or the upfront cost of biogas digesters. Meanwhile, others lack sufficient digester knowhow, particularly on the use of bioslurry (a by-product of the biogas process) as organic fertilizer. Often it is discharged into the environment, releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas compounding climate change.

The biogas sector in the country is dominated by men, so is masonry. These are not part of traditional employment roles for women. In another brief prepared by IGES and SNV, some of the challenges to women’s participation included increased time to master technical issues and limited skills for communication and business development.

To change this perception and show women’s capability as masons, the TA project team worked with local partners Dong Hoi Women’s Union (DHWU) and the Urban Environment Company (URENCO) providing training, gender-sensitizing existing national training materials and programs, conducting sensitizing sessions for male trainers to minimize gender biases, and establishing a revolving fund to provide loans, thereby increasing access to biogas digesters and enhancing the market for female-led biogas mason enterprises (BMEs).

During the pilot, 283 households constructed or purchased bio-digesters. Each biogas digester operated is said to reduce about five tons of CO2eq per year. On top of this, use of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers are lessened. The team also noted that each well-operated digester helps women save one to two hours from cooking every day, and (at the time of the pilot) about $2.50 to $5 per month from fuel expenses. Women are likewise spared from having to gather firewood. With the time saved, women have the opportunity to spend time with their family, participate in social activities in the community, or develop farming or small business activities to increase their household income, they added.

For Nguyen Thi Hong Thanh, one of the women who participated in the initiative from the Nghia Ninh commune, being a biogas mason changed her life. She shared how she had a great experience overcoming challenges, like people not understanding the benefits of biogas, or how construction was initially too technical, and when she had to prove to male masons that she had the ability. She enjoyed learning new knowledge and skills to become a biogas mason. For her, the most significant change in her quality of life has been gaining the trust of the community and surpassing the biggest challenge of doing work that people only perceive as a man’s job.

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