by Jane Howard and Mariangela Bizzarri
MOROTO — Two surveys of WFP beneficiaries paint a shocking picture of the hardship and sexual violence faced by Ugandan women collecting firewood. WFP has launched a project which could improve their lives by, among other things, introducing more efficient cooking stoves as part of the Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy (SAFE) initiative.
Women told focus groups how they spend as long as six hours a day, six days a week, in the bush collecting wood, running the risk of rape and other attacks, often from warriors from rival tribes.
“When we go to collect firewood in the mountains you can meet a warrior if it is your bad day. They rape and rob you, and If you try call for help or try to resist they can beat and rape you more. This may even make them kill you.”
--Female firewood collector, Moroto, Uganda.
“They can pull you into the thorns, hurt all your body, tear all your clothes and leave you with wounds,” said one woman from the village of Losikait, in the Moroto district of Karamoja. “I know of women in this community who have been killed by warriors. In fact all of us – young girls and adult women who collect firewood – are all at high risk.”
Curbing the risks
The wood is used for cooking and to fence off homesteads in mainly pastoralist communities who raise livestock for a living. In the rainy season, the risks are even higher, because the long grass grows high, providing cover for potential attackers.
The two surveys, carried out by WFP’s partners, Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision Uganda, in the Kotido and Moroto districts, will act as a baseline, to measure the impact of SAFE project activities.
In April this year, WFP in partnership with the German development agency, GTZ, started to provide women in the two districts with fuel-efficient mud stoves. Eighty community-based trainees were shown how to help women build their own stoves. So far, more than 1,500 stoves have been produced.
Benefits have been immediate. The stoves need less fuel, and women say they have been able to cut by almost a half the frequency of their collection trips – significantly reducing the risk of being attacked.
In addition, the SAFE initiative encourages protection of the environment. More efficient use of fuel means that fewer trees are chopped down for firewood and charcoal production. The project also aims to promote the creation of livelihoods to reduce the reliance of women on the collection of firewood for income.