The country of Sudan has been struggling with violent conflicts since an ongoing genocide began in the Darfur region in 2003. Over the past twelve years, nearly 400,000 citizens were killed and another 2.5 million were displaced by the Janjaweed militia. The country has been investigated for many human rights violations, but the suffering continues today. Currently, 2.7 million citizens reside in displaced persons camps, and 4.7 million rely on humanitarian aid to survive.
Daily life in Darfur is difficult for anyone, but women face an exceptionally dangerous reality. Rape has often been used as a tool of war in this region. Militias will enter villages, kill off the men of the households, and then rape the women. Many women do not report these experiences, but even when they do, the authorities do little to help. Victims may be ostracized, especially if they become pregnant.
In Sudan, wood burning stoves are commonly used for cooking. Being in charge of collecting firewood means miles of walking alone, and women often face violence when they go to gather fuel for these stoves. They could be attacked or raped while making these walks. Even when left alone, they still suffered from wounds on their hands and feet after dragging wood for miles.
Fueling these wood stoves was extremely dangerous for women. Furthermore, the stoves presented environmental concerns. Deforestation has damaged the fertile land in Sudan, and indoor wood stoves produce toxic smoke. To tackle these issues, The Darfurian Women’s Development Network began distributing gas stoves to thousands of households in Darfur.
The organization hoped to raise awareness of the negative health and environmental impact of wood stoves, reduce pressure on the dwindling natural resources necessary to fuel them and reduce indoor air pollution and toxic smoke production. They distributed gas stoves to 15,000 households in Darfur, specifically targeting the groups who struggled most: single women, displaced citizens, manual workers and farmers. These stoves are powered exclusively by LPG gas, a clean energy source.
So far, the gas stoves have had an overwhelmingly positive impact, especially for women. They no longer need to make frequent, dangerous treks to gather firewood, leaving them less vulnerable to sexual violence and giving them peace of mind. With a decreased need for wood to burn, ecosystems can begin to recover. Smoke from wood burning stoves could cause coughing and chest infections when inhaled, but the gas stoves pose no such health threats.
The gas stoves cannot solve all the problems that Sudanese citizens currently face, but they have improved quality of life for many. The Darfurian Women’s Development Network will continue distributing these stoves in order to keep steadily working towards a brighter future for Sudan.
– Jane Harkness
Sources: The Guardian, Practical Action, Response Magazine, United Human Rights Council