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Women as agents of change in African carbon finance projects

moresoda | 08 March 2021 |
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You could be forgiven for assuming that the red SDG 5: Gender Equality icon appearing on many of our carbon finance project pages simply indicates that women are positively impacted by those projects. And while this may be true, women are far from passive recipients of the projects’ benefits. From community cookstove sellers to water pump treasurers and tree planting auditors, women are agents of change and their work is crucial to the success of carbon finance.

Women as agents of change in African carbon finance projects

Take the Improved Water Infrastructure Project in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example. It reduces emissions by repairing boreholes in villages across Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe. With a fresh, clean water supply, communities no longer need to cut down local forests for fuel to boil water. It’s this reduced use of biomass that generates carbon credits, but the climate is not the only beneficiary of the project. Women – who typically walk miles to fetch water before spending time boiling it – gain back time to spend on other educational or entrepreneurial activities.

Water Resource Committee Member Abecech Asrat and her children at the repaired borehole in Chencha, Ethiopia.

Abebech Asrat lives in the Chencha region of Ethiopia with her husband and four children. She used to spend two to three hours per day collecting water from the Shayne River, and up to six hours collecting firewood to boil it, taking three to four days to ensure it was clean. With a functioning water borehole now nearby, Abecech chose to use her spare time to advance herself and her family while contributing to the ongoing management of the project. She became a Committee Member for the reparation and maintenance of the village borehole and has gained new skills in administration and hygiene.

Paul Chiplen, Director of Sales and Marketing at CO2balance, our project partner, explains: “When we first go into a project area, we hold a stakeholder meeting and help set up a Water Resource Committee with a 50/50 gender split. That gender split is a condition of us repairing the boreholes in the future. Having women on the Committee helps ensure the borehole is used fairly and avoids corruption. We set up a payment system with everyone contributing a few shillings, which helps get buy-in so people feel a sense of ownership and therefore responsibility.”

Each person pays 1 Birr for 40 litres of clean water, which goes towards future borehole repairs. Abebech’s family saves 4,800 Birr/year previously spent on medicine for stomach illnesses and her children attend school for longer, with new books and uniforms. The project also connected Abebech to microfinance to set up a business selling eggs. Now earning 10,000 Birr/year, she has bought a new house.

Pamela Barigye progressed from a tree Quantifier to Leader of the Community Reforestation Project in Uganda.

Projects like this are challenging traditional gender roles in rural areas across Africa, where it is common for the husband or father of the family to own the house and have the rights to the land. That’s why it’s not a requirement to have land rights to participate in the Community Reforestation Project, based in Uganda and Kenya.

The project organises community-based tree planting initiatives with over 12,000 small groups involving 93,000 smallholder farmers. The farmers are given training in conservation farming techniques and are paid for trees that survive under their care with remuneration tied to action rather than to land ownership. In addition, the project uses a rotational management structure, resulting in 50% female leadership over time. With managerial responsibility and access to training, women have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership qualities, share their knowledge and expand this impactful carbon finance project, while helping to shift perceptions in their communities.

Pamela Barigye has been working with the Community Reforestation Project for 13 years, firstly as a Quantifier, then Expansion Coordinator, and now Project Leader in the Kabale region. As a Quantifier, Pamela encouraged other women farmers to participate in the project: “We are the ones who collect all the data needed to send to the project developers, so they know what’s happening. We send them every detail of the groves,” she commented. Now, as a Project Leader, Pamela is pivotal to the programme’s success. She shares the story of her progress and development, emphasising the multitude of benefits farmers will reap for their families by investing in tree growth over the long-term. She’s also been able to support her daughters to attend university, helping to empower the next generation of women leaders.

A total of 201 female entrepreneurs like Army Essrah and her daughter have sold 100,000 stoves through the Ghana Cookstoves Project.

Indeed, as the World Bank attests, “Women are more likely to reinvest their earnings back into their families to improve education, nutrition, and health, helping to break the cycle of poverty.” A woman called Army Essah, a shopkeeper in Accra, Ghana, has the same idea. She and her daughter have diversified their stock by selling cookstoves through the Efficient Cookstoves Project. Customers ask them how the affordable stove can be used with traditional cooking pans to cook fufu and other local dishes. Army and her daughter work together to demonstrate how the stoves work and the time and financial savings compared to cooking on open fires.

The stoves reduce the amount of charcoal needed to cook a meal by over 50%, reducing emissions and indoor air pollution, improving the health of families, and giving women more time to spend on other activities. Households save in the region of $60 per year when making the switch, often a significant part of their income.

Maame Serwah, owner of Quincy Hair Salon in Accra, Ghana. While customers get their hair braided, they discuss the benefits of cooking with the improved stove.

A total of 201 female entrepreneurs have sold 100,000 stoves through the project. This includes Maame Serwah, the owner of Quincy Hair Salon in Accra. While her customers get their hair braided, they discuss the benefits of cooking with the improved stove. It’s this knowledge sharing among networks of women that plays a critical role in the expansion of the project. Groups of sellers can then use the customer database to sell solar lamps, or to disseminate information on family planning, health, education or water use.

It is well-documented that development projects see greater success when they empower women - a McKinsey report has shown that gender equality could contribute $12 trillion to the global economy. And it’s now clear that the same applies to carbon finance projects.

So, next time you see that SDG 5 icon on our project pages, know that it means women are agents of change in our projects, and they are changing the world for the better.

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