Beyond Firewood: Alternative Fuel = Safer Women

Turns out firewood isn’t just bad for the environment. There’s a straightforward, yet relatively unexplored link between collecting firewood and violence against women. In refugee camps in regions from Sudan and Sri Lanka to Ethiopia and Ecuador, women are often raped, assaulted and even murdered while collecting firewood. Cooking smoke from wood has also been linked to acute respiratory diseases.

To combat this phenomenon, Beyond Firewood, the first international research conference on firewood and alternative cooking fuels and energy technologies in humanitarian setting, was held yesterday and today in New Delhi.

Organized by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the conference aims to explore alternative energy solutions with the specific aim of keeping women safe. The conference is part of a larger campaign, Get Beyond Firewood, which emphasizes that safe cooking fuel should be as high a priority as ensuring food or water in critical humanitarian emergencies.

“The food distributed to refugees by relief agencies must be cooked before it can be eaten, but the issue of safe access to appropriate cooking fuel has long been ignored by the humanitarian community. Women and girls are left to fend for themselves, and after years of abuse, they have become accustomed to the brutal attacks they risk when they venture out of their camps in search of firewood. Ultimately, they have become resigned to rape,” states the Commission’s website.