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Grassroot women from Bunyoro region and parts of Northern Uganda held a women’s energy assembly on 14th of September 2017. The women’s energy assembly coincided with the “National Annual Energy Week”, that was celebrated between the 10th and 15th of September 2017 in Kampala. The annual energy week was started by government in 2005 to create a platform for public authorities, energy agencies, private companies and urban dwellers to engaged in Uganda’s Energy Sector to dialogue and exchange ideas and discus pertinent energy-related issues. While government says the annual energy-week serves to sensitizing the general public about efficient utilization of energy and raise awareness regarding energy use and conservation, the rural women who are most affected by the decisions of the constituencies mentioned above are usually excluded from this national Energy week.

The National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in collaboration with National Association of Women’s Action in Development (NAWAD) who are spearheading the Women-led Campaign for energy and climate justice in Uganda hosted the women’s energy assembly with support from Africa Women Region Alliance (WoMIN). The women’s assembly was also attended by NAPE’s long-term partner, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) that was represented by Ms. Maria Klerfelt, the Program Manager Climate at SSNC. Over 75 grassroot women from Hoima, Buliisa, Amuru, Nwoya and two energy experts attended the localized energy assembly to celebrate the women’s energy assembly. The women discussed the current energy systems and deliberated on how best grassroot women can access efficient and sustainable energy systems.

Maria Klerfelt asked women to work together and save collectively to shift from the current energy systems that is characterized by negative impacts, sometimes severe to renewable energy alternatives that are affordable, accessible and friendly to women’s health and the environment. While appearing on Community Green Radio, Ms. Klerfelt said that fossil-based energy systems that are dominantly used worldwide greatly contribute to climate change effects. Fossil-based energy system is expensive and not readily accessible and affordable to grassroot users, especially women. This has force rural women to resort to using biomass energy, a move that has increases the rate at which trees are cut down, and also put women’s health at risk as they walk long distances to collect firewood. Firewood also emits smoke that pose a risk of contracting respiratory infections.

Ms. Klerfelt also encouraged rural women to organized themselves and start saving small money to enable them to access clean energy like solar energy systems and energy saving stoves. In addition to that, she encouraged the women to use the Community Green Radio to share experiences and challenges they face in using unclean energy system and together find ways of how to overcome these challenges.

Sostine Namanya, the NAPE Gender and Food Security Officer who also appeared on the same radio talk show asked women to tap into opportunities available to access alternative clean energy systems like acquiring skills to make charcoal briquettes and energy saving stoves that can help women overcome the challenges they faced with conventional energy systems and also conserve and sustain their environment.

Women discussed the challenges they face with using fossil-based energy systems like lantern (lamps) and locally fabricated laterns known as tadooba that use kerosene / paraffin. They also discussed challenges of using firewood, grass, and charcoal for their household energy needs all of which which have negative effects on the environment and women’s health. Women share touching stories on how they have experienced energy. A first-hand account from a woman who was affected by the current energy system left many participants sorrowful.

“I have an eye defect that I sustained when a piece of wood struck into my eye when I was collecting firewood five years back. I was trying to break and a small piece hit my eye.” Esther Abigaba, a resident of Kabale parish in Buseruka Sub County shared her experience with using firewood during the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the women called upon the government to subsidize taxes on solar energy systems so that rural women can afford to buy, and extending rural electrification to their areas; and to also train women in alternative energy technologies such as making charcoal briquettes and energy saving stoves.

World Bank estimates that women and girls spend an average of two and a half hours of their time daily collecting firewood which limits their livelihood activities. In addition, biomass dependency has very negative impact on women and girl’s health and in less secure environments; women and girls are at high risk of injury and violence during fuel gathering.

The energy week also involved a visit to the Kaiso-Tonya Women’s group in Kaiso-Tonya landing site in Hoima district. Slvia Kemigisa the group chairperson said that they were restricted from accessing Kabwoya Game Reserve gather firewood and other forest materials since the discovery of oil to only two days a week. She said that they use drama to expose their challenges so that leaders can take action.

Mela Chiponda, from the Regional Women’s Alliance said WoMIN stands in solidarity with Kaiso women in the struggle for their rights against the taking away of their land, rivers and forests among others. She said good development comes from people, and urged Kaiso women to work as a team and continue fighting for their rights for sustainable energy systems.

Story compiled by Precious Natukunda & Betty Obbo