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Understanding gender relations crucial when dealing with the 'killer in the kitchen'


Effective kitchen stoves that use less firewood and emit fewer greenhouse gases are both cheap and available to the rural population in many developing countries. But the demand for the stove is low. From his field study in Ethiopia, economist Sied Hassen at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, draws the conclusion that the bargaining power in the household is the key for understanding the adoption of more effective stoves.

Indoor air pollution that stems from inefficient kitchen stoves kills about 2 million people every year, which are more people than die from malaria. In Ethiopia, the rural population lacks access to electricity, which means the food is prepared on simple stoves using firewood. Emissions from these stoves are not only endangering the health or even lives of the household members, but also contribute to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Overuse of firewood also leads to deforestation.

"Surprisingly the demand for more effective stoves is very low although the benefits are obvious. By using the improved biomass stoves you need to collect and use less firewood and the indoor air will be improved. We found that the answer lies in the gender relations in the family", says Sied Hassen.

In most African rural households women are responsible for collecting firewood and cooking while the men are the default household heads who control the cash account. To invest in a new stove then must be approved of by the husband.

"As women often have low decision making power and men have low interest in issues that concerns cooking and firewood, as this is considered a female domain, the demand for the stoves becomes low", says Sied Hassen.

This is reflected in the study which finds that women with low decision making power in families with autocratic men have showed low demand for the stove. Only husbands who were not autocratic showed high demand. On the other hand, among the more autonomous wives the demand for the stove was high.

"Women who got paid jobs and get their own money have better chances of buying the stove, therefore job creation activities in rural area are very important. This demonstrates the importance of empowering women in order to increase adoption in rural improved stove programmes. Those who are interested in expanding this project must take into account the politics within the household", says Sied Hassen.

Also, Sied Hassen suggests that the stoves should be designed to make them more attractive to men. One way of doing this is to include attributes that can be valued by men, for example a mobile phone charger. Then they wouldn't have to travel to faraway places where electricity is available.

A woman trained by the regional energy office is giving training and explanations about the new improved stove.

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The thesis "On the Adoption and Dis-adoption of Household Energy and Farm Technologies" was defended on June 12, 2015 at the Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg.