Women’s work is never done: Lifting the gendered burden of firewood collection and household energy use in Kenya

In rural Kenya, firewood is used for cooking and heating by 9 out of every 10 households due to its affordability, availability and convenience. This study was carried out using social and natural science methods to understand women’s energy burdens and the reasons for the persistent use of firewood. Firewood remains the main source of energy even when multiple fuels are used (“fuel stacking”). Collecting firewood from forests limits women’s earning potential and has a negative impact on their well-being although it is a source of income for some as they sell part of what they gather. In these modern times no one would expect that the prospect of freezing to death due to lack of firewood in the tropical highlands worries aging women, but it does. Women’s burden of collecting firewood could be lifted by bringing firewood closer through use of residues from trees on farms and burning it in more efficient cookstoves although there may be gender-specific barriers for some women. Income from sale of two timber trees was adequate to meet the cost of labour for pruning trees on-farm and carrying home a year’s supply of firewood for families without members who can do the work. This information is useful towards improving rural women’s wellbeing and the sustainability of cooking energy. Knowledge gaps still exist in nature, causes and impacts of energy burdens and solutions that work for the people.