Kenyan women join in providing clean energy solutions
Dorcas Eshikum is no ordinary employee at BURN Manufacturing limited that is based in Ruiru town along the Nairobi-Thika super highway.
Eshikum is among the first female Quality Control (QC) Inspectors in the company that produces improved cook-stoves namely Jikokoa and Kuniokoa.
She takes pride in her work and that of her colleagues, 50 percent of who are women, and that she earned BURN the 2015 Ashden International Awards.
This was given for the firm’s role in helping improve the lives of women and girls in East Africa with its efficient modern charcoal-burning Jikokoa stove as well as employment opportunities which it provides to women in the community.
Says Eshikum: “Being a quality controller has helped me gain a lot of confidence as I am able to articulate solutions and challenges for BURN.”
Says the 2015 Ashden report: “Employing women in the delivery of energy challenges traditional perceptions of their capabilities and existing norms surrounding the gendered division of labour especially in the energy sector.”
Noted Peter Scott, BURN chief executive officer: “The Company has partnered with micro-finance institutions in Kenya such as the Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), Equity Bank and M-Kopa to help increase access of its stoves.”
On an ordinary day, it’s not uncommon to see Eshikum yanking and pulling skilfully at the feet of the Jikokoa; checking and rechecking to ensure the final product holds steady as they cook in the kitchen of a customer’s Eshikum takes pride in her work saying: “Before I would check the feet of the stove with my hands but I proposed to my boss that we use pliers instead so as to ensure the stoves produced are of high quality.”
Having grown up in rural areas where cooking on an open fire is the norm, Eshikum or ‘Mwana’ as her colleagues call her, understands that each high-quality stove that passes through her keen eyes will mean fewer women and children die from indoor air pollution as they cook.
According to a 2012 estimate by the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 4.3 million people worldwide — mostly women and children — die every year from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary biomass stoves. These are more than those of HIV and AIDS a as well as tuberculosis and malaria.
“As a child I spent most of my weekends and school holidays fetching firewood on the Misingo hills in Butere in Mumias Sub-County for the family to use for cooking on the jiko ya mawe tatu which is the traditional open fire made up of three stones.
“I learnt to balance as much firewood as I could on my back to avoid the one-hour trip back to Misingo Hills. By the time I was a young adult, I had mastered the trail so well that I halved the one hour trip,” recalls Eshikum as her hands clean away at some invisible dirt on her black jeans.
Indeed, her childhood is similar to that of most girls in rural Kenya and in Africa’s developing countries who are primarily tasked with fetching wood fuel for household cooking. This limits their ability to participate in safer, more productive activities, including education, notes a 2015 report by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) ‘Why Sustainable Energy Matters For Children.’’.
Globally women are primarily responsible for cooking, as such they suffer most from unclean and inefficient cooking making the dissemination of clean cook stoves a gender issue, noted a February 2015 report on Women and Sustainable Energy by Ashden, a charity organisation that champions sustainable energy solutions.
“Working at BURN allows me to give back to my community. I am able to earn a living and at the same time be part of the solution. The stoves we make provide women with a cleaner cooking environment,” reiterates Eshikum.
“We have designed an improved cook stove that cuts down fuel consumption by half of what a traditional stove or three stone fire uses and reduces emissions to half, explains Scott.
So far they have sold over 300,000 improved stoves since setting up shop in Kenya in 2013. “These stoves have impacted the lives of over one million people,” concludes Scott.