As part of the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)—the principal intergovernmental initiative dedicated to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment—the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and UN Women DRC will co-host a time poverty-focused panel during the March 2018 NGO Committee on the Status of Women. This global convening will support the UN CSW by enabling global advocates, practitioners, and NGOs to network, as well as share learnings and best practices on issues related to women and girls. The Alliance and UN Women DRC will co-host Unlocking Her Time: Clean Cooking Solutions to Empower Rural Women panel to examine the time-saving impact of clean cooking solutions to unlock the economic potential of women and girls and drive gender equality and greater socio-economic impacts. The Alliance is pleased to interview Ms. Awa Ndiaye-Seck, DRC Country Representative, to highlight UN Women’s work, and allow our partners to understand the growing movement to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality globally through clean cooking solutions and energy access.

Click here to learn more about attending Unlocking Her Time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

How did UN Women come into existence, and what is the role of CSW in UN Women?

The establishment of UN Women (UNW) in 2010 signaled a pivotal moment in the United Nations. Four entities came together to solidify efforts on gender equality and women's empowerment: The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI). Since 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has advocated, contributed, and coordinated the work of UN agencies, and subsequently led to the creation of what we know today as UN Women. The evolution of UN Women has been largely due to the progress and gains from CSW, UNIFEM’s advocacy role, and the organization of meetings like the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 and subsequent conferences.

 

How has UN Women DRC engaged with the clean cooking issue?

Clean cooking, renewable energy, and climate change are priorities of UN Women DRC. We have called on the government, multilateral agencies, and community service organizations to commit to advancing gender equality by including women’s access to clean cooking solutions. As you know, poor rural women lack access to clean cooking fuels and stoves, leading to an increase in time poverty. After discussing with the Alliance, it became clear that we need to become more involved.

To this end, UN Women DRC has identified a three-pronged policy commitment to clean cooking:

  1. Promote investment in clean cookstoves for achieving sustainable development and gender equality; 
  2. Develop gender equality and sex- and age-disaggregated targets in clean cookstoves initiatives, which have already started in the Eastern part of the country; and
  3. Incorporate women into the design, testing, and social marketing of clean cooking technologies.

 

What is the impact of energy poverty vis-a-vis gender equality and women’s empowerment?

In many Sub-Saharan African countries, but more importantly in the DRC, the lack of access to clean and affordable energy has a real link with many issues affecting women and girls. Women and girls often have to venture out to collect firewood in isolated and difficult locations. They are vulnerable. I still remember the time I went to the East and visited a woman who was living in a small tent. The sitting area for her family was filled with so much cooking smoke. We could not see anything. Can you imagine a six-month-old staying in the kitchen day-in and day-out with his mother and living in these conditions? We reached out to the WHO, and they said that cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner with firewood is equivalent to smoking 3-20 packs of cigarettes per day!

While there are significant health impacts associated with cooking over polluting cookstoves, we also know that the chores of women and girls who don’t have access to energy are taking time away from access to education, employment opportunities, and time for themselves. Without a doubt, energy poverty disproportionately affects women and girls.

 

How has the movement to promote energy as a fundamental approach to empower women and girls evolved at CSW? What excites you about this year’s CSW and any energy-related opportunities?

Last year, the CSW talked about unpaid care work, and this year we will talk about rural women. For me, it’s an interesting evolution because if you really want to help rural women and girls achieve their rights, if you want to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, the theme that CSW is focusing on this year would probably be your pick. For the rural and peri-urban populations in the DRC affected by the lack of access to energy, going to CSW, discussing these issues, sharing experiences from other countries, and seeing the gains that have been made, as well as seeing the learning process that people went through, would be something that needs all of our attention. The DRC is the second largest country in Africa, with at least 23 million women and girls living in rural areas; there is a lot of opportunity to make a difference in this country and around the greater region.

The CSW62 is important and very relevant for the women and girls of DRC. UN Women has a five-year flagship agricultural development program, and attending CSW would be an exciting opportunity to represent that program and showcase linkages to energy and clean cooking access. Issues related to energy and opportunities will be our main priority, as well as implementing lessons learned to promote easy access to clean energy as a fundamental approach to women’s empowerment in DRC. 

We are pleased to co-host the Unlocking Her Time event with the Alliance during CSW62. We hope to see many new and experienced partners at the session.