Over three billion people around the world rely on polluting fuels for cooking and heating their homes (WHO). In low and middle-income countries like Lao PDR, the use of firewood and charcoal as cooking fuel heightens the risk of household air pollution. Since 2012, SNV in Lao PDR has been promoting the production and adoption of improved cookstoves that use (a maximum of 55%) less wood and charcoal than traditional tripod stoves.
One month ago, I had the opportunity to spend a day with the Improved Cookstoves (ICS) programme team and to meet some of the key stakeholders involved along the ICS value chain . As we approach International Women's Day (IWD) this week, I would like to share some takeaways from my visit, while reflecting on this year’s IWD theme.
Enabling an equal world through businesses
I often read and engage in discussions about working parents’ struggles with work-life balance, but rarely do I encounter practical examples of flexible work arrangements with child-friendly working hours.
Mr Seu, owner of a small-scale improved cookstove production factory believes that everyone should enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Because mothers continue to be the primary care givers to their children, Mr Seu knows that flexibility in their working hours is a necessity. This flexibility allows mothers to take their children to and from school and prepare their lunches. For one employee, Mr Seu further extended this assistance by building a small cookstove production area inside her home. The transfer of equipment into his employee’s home made it possible for the employee to continue with her income-generation work, while keeping a watchful eye on her child.
‘Women in our community bear multiple responsibilities; cooking, childcare, gardening and many more. Even when women are employed, family members expect them to continue performing their tasks at home. Because of these expectations, I extend flexible working hours to my women employees and try to provide other support arrangements to help them balance their multiple responsibilities. With these arrangements in place, I’ve witnessed heightened productivity and happiness in their faces.’ - Mr Seu, Stove Producer in Vientiane.
Enabling an equal world through inclusive participation
The Global Gender Gap Index for women’s economic empowerment in Lao PDR stood at 83.9% in 2019; suggesting that there’s still scope to improve Lao women’s economic participation and opportunities. The ICS programme makes an explicit attempt to engage women with disability in cookstove production so that they become independent income earners. Together with the Association for Rural Mobilisation and Improvement (ARMI), our implementing partner responsible for training and monitoring, I visited the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC) in Vientiane.
‘SNV’s support to LWDC has been instrumental in providing a safe and conducive working environment to our sisters with disability who are involved in stove production. Capacity building initiatives and regular technical support from SNV and ARMI have helped us immensely. In January, we produced more than 200 stoves and this income helped us expand our support to more women.’ – Ms Khampheang, LDWDC, Vientiane.
About the ICS programme
The Improved Cookstoves (ICS) programme aims to develop the cookstove market by enhancing the performance of all the actors in the ICS value chain: producers, retailers, testing agencies and users.
The overall objective of the programme is to contribute to poverty alleviation in the country through the development of a sustainable consumption and production chain of cleaner and fuel efficient cookstoves.
Written by Silvana Summa with contributions from Prakash Ghimire, Sidavone Chanthavong and Anjani Abella
Photos and video: SNV/Silvana Summa
 Based on census data of xx, approximately 87.9% of Lao PDR’s rural population use firewood and 8.5% use charcoal for cooking. In urban areas, 45.4% and 36.1% of the population are dependent on firewood and charcoal for cooking, respectively.