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One Briquette at a Time: Clean Energy Entrepreneurship to Empower our Girls

(Photo: Girl Up girls with trainer, Beatrice, and their own briquettes)

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) works to empower girls with the knowledge and skills to equip them for the future, and empower them to contribute to their communities. We cover a range of issues, from sexual and reproductive rights and health to leadership training, and menstrual hygiene management. Recently, we have turned our attention to an area of great promise, which also has the attention of the international community at varying degrees - clean energy. This is due to the looming threat of climate change and resource scarcity, in the face of an ever increasing population and security threats to international peace. Educating and training girls to understand environmental challenges, and learn a new skill they can use to generate income, conserve the environment and reduce the demand for dirty fuels, is an area GUIU is keen on pursuing and integrating into our Girl Up Club activities.

As we have pointed out in a previous article, environmental and clean energy entrepreneurship has potential not only to improve individual lives, but whole communities and ecosystems. Currently, most communities use wood and charcoal to cook. Not only is this bad for the environment in terms of pollution - contributing to the 25% black carbon that adds to greenhouse gas emissions - but it also poses a massive threat to public health. The inhaling of pollutants can contribute to diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease, and is responsible for the premature death of 4 million people a year according to WHO.

This month, 160 girls from two schools in Kampala participated in a 4-hour training where they learned to make briquettes as a substitute fuel source. The exercise was designed to introduce girls to the concept of resource management and environmental conservation in their communities, as well as the potential monetary benefits that can be reaped in this particular market. Briquettes can be used as a substitute for wood and charcoal for purposes of heating and cooking, are made from locally sourced materials, last longer than charcoal, and are less harmful to the environment as they contain less carbon and other pollutants. Although a portion of charcoal is still used to produce briquettes, they reduce the quantity of charcoal that would be used by 70%. Biomass briquettes -made from all biodegradable green waste such as groundnut shells and agricultural waste - are often preferred, and are being put to use in Uganda and other developing countries.

“Making these briquettes will reduce the high demand for charcoal and in turn reduce the rate at which trees are being cut for charcoal”

-Beatrice, Training Facilitator

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is currently working to put together a formal training session on the environment to supplement our briquette training, teaching girls how their actions impact the environment around them. Climate change, like gender equality, is now a top priority for most governments, businesses, and civil society, and we do not want to leave our girls out of the conversation. In addition, the unique negative impacts women face from climate change, and the importance of them participating in climate change decision-making is invaluable.

Our increased engagement in activities such as making briquettes will not only create opportunities for women and girls by incorporating them into the value chain to earn a livelihood, they will also gain the multiple benefits of using cleaner energy sources. Reduced household air pollution and better health, reduced costs and time spent on fuel collection, and environmental conservation are all factors that underscore how transformative girls’ participation in the clean energy revolution can be!

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