The Impact of Improved Cookstoves on the School Attendance of Girls
Improved cookstoves (ICS) have improved the life of the users in different ways. One general assumption is that availability of ICS increases the school attendance of girls. The article lists relevant studies which support this assumption.
Approximately 2.9 billion people around the world cook and heat their homes with solid fuels. 96% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. The traditional way of burning solid fuel for cooking leads in many cases to serious problems such as: health problems because of the indoor smoke, deforestation, sexual and gender based violence during the collection of the fire wood alongside with the loss of time. As women and girls spend considerable time near cookstoves and are responsible of collecting firewood in many countries, it is assumed that this is the reason for many girls not attending schools.
Out of the 2.9 billion people who uses solid fuel, about 828 million in developing countries use improved cook stoves. These stoves improve the indoor air quality and also reduce the use of firewood. This reduces deforestation and the time needed for firewood collection. As a result, a question is raised whether the saved time due to the use of ICS has an impact on the attendance of school children: Do children – especially girls – go more often to school if their family owns an ICS?
Improved Cookstoves – Terminology Clarification
Improved, advanced or efficient cooking stoves are all relative concepts which depend on several factors such as the type of the traditional considered stove and the aim of the design development. Traditional cook stoves can range from three-stone open fires to substantial brick models with chimney. An improved cookstove can be designed to improve energy efficiency, remove smoke from the indoor living space or reduce the drudgery of cooking duties. Find more in: What is an Improved Cookstove (ICS)?
Girls’ School Attendance Compared to Boys’
Female education levels have improved considerably in the last century. In South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, girls’ primary enrolment rates have doubled in the second half of the 20th century, rising faster than boys’ enrolment rates and substantially reducing gender gaps in schooling. Despite all these improvement, in 2000, girls constituted more than 57 percent of the 104 million children aged 6-11 not in school and women were almost two-thirds of the 860 million non-literates worldwide.
Collecting Fuel Wood and School Attendance
Children are often pulled out of schools to help their families with household activities (fetching wood, cooking, crop processing by hand, and manual farming). Many studies indicate that fuel wood scarcity places major demands on women and children’s time, limiting their opportunities to obtain an education and undertake income generating activities. For instance:
- The EnDev report on impact 2016 states that collecting firewood can lead to lack of time for other purposes such as school attendance and studying.
- The data from a 1997-98 Malawi Integrated Household Survey (HIS) conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) shows that children are significantly involved in resource collection work and their probability of attending school decreases with increase in hours spend on this type of work. The study further shows that girls spend many hours on resource work and they go to school while they are burdened by this work. Consequently, girls may find difficult to progress well in school.
- In the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India, a major reason for keeping girls of age 10-12 at home is to help their mothers in collecting cow dung.
- Families from Kibaha District in Tanzania mentioned that their daughters were missing schools up to three days per month due to firewood collection.
- Furthermore, UNDP 2013 states that an increase in the fuel wood collection time may force girls to drop out of schools to assit their mothers in household’s tasks, thus hindering their education.
Access to efficient fuels and technologies frees up women’s and children’s time. Waris 2014 confirmed that substantial time savings can be made by using improved cookstoves on wood gathering or buying, varying from several minutes to a few hours per day. However, this is not always the case: some studies did not find any significant reduction of time destined to wood gathering (e.g. in Senegal, Madagascar). One of the reasons could be that fuelwood can be collected at very large distances only and takes time anyhow.  
Saving time due to ICS, supports the assumption that girls go more often to school, if the family owns an ICS. In South Asia, Practical Action (2014) reported that mothers who use ICS are able to devote more time to prepare their children to go to school and monitor their studies. The survey results also suggest that households using improved cookstoves were more likely to send their children to school than traditional cookstove users.
There are very few studies which provide strong evidences to prove the assumption that girls go more often to school if the family use an ICS. However, studies in related fields might suggest that time savings from households task, leads to a higher school attendance of girls.
In the case of access to electricity, there are case studies which prove that girls go more often to school than before the household had access. School enrolment and the number of schooling years went up significantly in areas with access to electricity in Bangladesh and Vietnam. The rate of school attendance of girls increased not as much as for boys: for girls the rate increased by 4% vs. 11% for boys in Vietnam.
By ensuring the provision of safe potable water in Morocco (1998) from public taps less than 500 meters away from the homes of beneficiaries, the time women and girls spent fetching water is also reduced by 50 to 90 percent. Saving time in water collection has meant more girls are able to attend school: within four years, rural primary school attendance for girls jumped from 30 to 51 percent in the project areas of public taps.
As the evidence proved that there is a clear impact of access to electricity and the availability of clean water on the school attendance of children, it is assumed that improved cooking stoves have the same impact. Studies argue that the saved time due to the usage of ICS has an impact on the school attendance of children. Unfortunately, there are very few studies that prove a direct correlation between cooking on an ICS and school attendance of girls. There is, however, evidence, that girls are more often enrolled in school in case they have less duties in the households.
If you have any information on studies that point out that topic, feel free to add your experiences here.
- Improved Cooking Portal
- Impacts Portal
- Indicator Rural Electrification and Stoves
- Importance of Energy to achieve the Millennium Development Goal
- Education – Particularly Basic Education
- Gender Impacts of Energy Access
- Arising Inequalities through Energy Access
- World Bank 2001: Household Cookstoves, Environment, Health, and Climate Change - p.3 - 4 http://bit.ly/2w3hfrB Cite error: Invalid
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- UNHRC 2016: A Review of Cooking Systems for Humanitarian Settings – p.4 http://bit.ly/2vlviG2
- World bank 2005: IMPROVING WOMEN’S LIVES – p. 9, 29 http://bit.ly/2xxPTHX Cite error: Invalid
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- EnDev 2016: Empowring People – Report on Impact. GIZ- Eschborn. p.15 https://endev.info/content/Downloads
- Waris 2014: Fuelwood Scarcity, Poverty and Women: Some perspectives- p. 23, 26, 32-33 http://bit.ly/2wtZfaG Cite error: Invalid
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- Bwenge, Neatness Stanley 2011: The Effects of Adopting Improved Wood Stoves on the Welfare of Rural Women: A case of Kibaha District in Tanzania. Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands. P.27. http://edepot.wur.nl/192647
- UNDP 2013: Gender and energy – p.26 http://bit.ly/2vuZHky
- Dana Charron , et al. (2011): Analysis of Household Air Pollution Interventions in Madagascar; The University of Liverpool; Practical Action Consulting. http://cleancookstoves.org/resources_files/ethanol-assessment-madagascar-a.pdf
- Bensch Gunther, et al. (2013). Fear of the Dark? How Access to Electric Lighting Affects Security Attitudes and Nighttime Activities in Rural Senegal. Journal of Rural and Community Development. http://bit.ly/2eZwAAs
- OXFAM 2017: Energy and Women and Girls - P.18. https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/energy-women-girls.pdf
- Ewan Bloomfield 2014: Gender and Livelihoods. Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in South Asia. Practical Action. p.2 http://bit.ly/2xybakJ
- Khandker, Barnes, & Samad, 2009: The Impact of Rural Electrification. International Food Policy Research Institute. p.11 http://bit.ly/2wMx6eP