Improved cookstoves empower women in the Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Date: March 07, 2017
  • Author: Nathalie Simoneau

My colleague and I rode the rough, volcanic black rock roadsA road is a thoroughfare, route, or way on land between two places, which has been paved or otherwise improved to allow travel by some conveyance, including a horse, cart, or motor vehicle. Roads consist of one, or sometimes two, roadways (British English: carriageways) each with one or more ... of Goma, a city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to a series of small wooden houses. Here, an association formed mainly of women was very busy working to build new, improved cookstoves by hand to make them nearly smoke free and more environmentally friendly.

Women of all ages toiled at various stations along the production chain. The female head of the association introduced us to the women and men pounding the clay that forms the inside of the cookstoves, shaping the metal of the outer shells, and decorating the finished product. This dynamic and knowledgeable group was improving livelihoodsSustainable livelihood includes job opportunities that are of a non-invasive type, and exclude extensive felling, heavy fishery, mono-cultures and other activities than permanently harm the environment; it also includes an lifestyle that takes care of any gives assets, such as fresh water or ... while protecting the environment—one cookstove at a time.

And while I’m thrilled with the environmental benefits of the projectProject is an intervention designed to achieve specific objectives within specified resources and implementation schedules, often within the framework of a broader program. (Glossary Monitoring and Evaluation Terms; MERG Monitoring & Evaluation Reference Group and UNAIDS), I’m also humbled and inspired by the integral role women play in carrying out the initiative.

Women’s extensive experience makes them an invaluable source of knowledge and expertise on environmental management and appropriate actions. They are the main users of natural resources through their work in agricultureCultivation of the ground and harvesting of crops and handling of livestock, the primary function is the provision of food and feed., fuelwood, and waterClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ... collection for household consumption purposes. Women are therefore powerful agents of change and have huge potential to impact sustainable developmentThe concept of sustainable development was introduced in the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN 1980) and had its roots in the concept of a sustainable society and in the management of renewable resources. Adopted by the WCED in 1987 and by the Rio Conference in 1992 as a process of change in ... and conservation.

Unfortunately, some communities around the world don’t always include women or look to them for guidance when discussing conservation policy or other green initiatives. That’s why I’m focused on integrating women in all spheres of WWF’s work. Striving to provide equitable access to opportunities and resources for all simply makes sense as we all work towards making the world a more sustainable and equal place, where people and nature live in harmony.


  • To date: over 62,000 produced in Goma and over 60,000 sold on the market
  • 20 associations making improved cookstoves (11 women-only; 5 mixed, 3 men-only), employing 1200+ women and 250+ men
  • Cookstoves are fast (boiling water time is greatly reduced), clean, and save money
  • Cookstoves reduce the consumption of charcoal by 50%, therefore providing savings for households where they can invest money somewhere else (health, food, education, etc.)

Woman carrying grass DRC

They are the main users of natural resources through their work in agriculture, fuelwood, and water collection.

a woman and child at the market

Deforestation is a serious threat to forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and charcoal is one of its causes.

Helping women and families by protecting the environment

In Goma, women now play an essential role in improving cookstoves—and the environment. The population depends heavily on charcoal as its cooking fuel, but that fuel comes primarily from the forestsForestry is the management and care of woods, including fellings and plantation of new trees. of Virunga National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. To prevent deforestation, protect habitat, and reduce greenhouse gas emissionsGreenhouse gas emissions cause dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Emissions include CO2, fluoridated gases, methane which are emitted by human activity such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, and water vapour., WWF and our partners launched a program to increase the number of households using energy-efficient stoves.

The program offers an excellent opportunity to bring women into the fold and close some gender gaps.

Several of the women taking part are single mothers trying to provide for their family, put food on the table, send their children to school, and pay for healthThe health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events; increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases; increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher ... care. The association allows them to earn a living, learn new skills, and receive training to raise awareness and knowledge of the links between their enterprise and the protection of the environment they so closely depend on. They receive training on how to produce, market, and sell improved cookstoves, learn to become entrepreneurs, and acquire organizational and business skills.

And they’ve seen results: economically, families using a more efficient stove cut their fuel bill in half. Environmentally, they’re cutting emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC) and saving thousands of acres of Virunga’s forest each year.

Gender equalityWomen and children are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events are most likely to be affected strongest by all impact of climate change, for example women who traditionally are responsible for fetching water. matters in conservation

Gender equality and environmental sustainabilityClimate change has reduced biodiversity already and the IPCC estimates that 20-30% of global species are likely to be at risk of extinction this century. go hand in hand. And it’s about everyone: women, men, boys, and girls and the roles they play and the positions they hold in society. Achieving sustainable and equitable societies means recognizing the value that each member of society—women, men, and youth—bring to the table when it comes to the use and management of resources, and how that affects the health and wellbeing of people and the environment. 

When we include women in decision-making processes and activities that lead to better environmental practices, as we do in Goma, we find more balanced and equitable solutions to conservation challenges.

Nathalie Simoneau focuses on mainstreaming gender and social issues into major WWF programs globally.

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