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Published on 24 April 2019

Improved stoves and the move to equality in Ethiopia

Bakaelech Bele is an enterprising mother from her rural community in Pilla, South Omo, Ethiopia.

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Bekaelech Bele
Bekaelech Bele

She is part of the Breaking the Barriers programme there, which is helping women like her to take more control and develop their own sustainable energy businesses to increase women's income, promote gender equality and strengthen their social status. 

Supporting women to challenge gender imbalances in their homes and communities, is also key to the success of the programme.They are encouraged to take part in family discussions, resulting in them having improved decision-making power over their household income. 

‘My husband would go to the market and sell one of the goats and spend the money drinking with his friends’. 

- Bekaelech Bele.

One year on from the launch of this EU-funded programme, change is already beginning to happen. Thanks to the support of our partner, Women Support Association, Bekaelech and others are now part of over 100 women-led sustainable energy enterprises in South Omo. 

Traditionally, the women in the community produced cook stoves, but these were extremely smokey, requiring a lot of wood, which they had to cut down and transport. Now, thanks to the programme, they have developed more environmentally-friendly cook stoves, together with the business and marketing plans to help sell them.

They are encouraged to participate in savings and loans schemes and receive financial education to prevent exploitation because in the past, when they went to the market, people would try to cheat them out of their money. 

Women report that men are now working alongside them in the fields during harvest, and that there is an increased number of girls attending school.

‘Sometimes when I wanted to send my daughter to school, but my husband wouldn’t allow it’. Says Bekaelech.

As she explains, ‘Now when my husband goes to the market, he will discuss it with me first and bring a share of the money home. Now the men support us to buy school materials and uniforms so that we can send the girls to school’.

Solar dryers and the changing role of women in Malawi’s fishing industry

Women have traditionally been shut-out of fishing on Lake Malawi, a business previously dominated by men.  

Women often find themselves exploited. ‘As women, when buying fish, we get asked out by the fishermen. If we say no to their propositions (for sex) they don’t sell fish to us for long periods’. As Anne Phiri explains, ‘In the end when we have to buy fish, we may just give in’. 

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Anne Phiri (left), Maria Chindamnba and Tikambenji Chirwa dry fish to sell at the local market in southern Malawi.
Anne Phiri (left), Maria Chindamnba and Tikambenji Chirwa dry fish to sell at the local market in southern Malawi.

Breaking the Barriers is supporting women like Tikambeni, Anne and Maria to build successful sustainable energy business. They are now saving to buy their own boat and they hope to source their own fish which will help them break this cycle of exploitation.

The programme, supported by our partners Eagles Relief Development Programme and the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development, is supporting these women’s groups to build successful businesses, by using solar fish dryers to prepare the fish for market.

The solar dryers will reduce the high consumption of fuel wood which is traditionally used for drying, and is one of the major causes of deforestation in Malawi.  

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Tikambenji smokes the fish to preserve it before taking it to market.
Tikambenji smokes the fish to preserve it before taking it to market.

Moving forward, the Breaking the Barriers programme will be pushing against women’s exclusion at a national level through tackling policies related to women in the sustainable energy sector.   

Breaking the Barriers will be working with 201 women-led sustainable energy enterprises in Ethiopia, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Honduras. Supporting them to develop sustainable energy products and businesses to increase rural women's jobs and income, promote gender equality, and strengthen women's social status.

Find out more

Read more about Breaking the Barriers