Gisele Bündchen: Women Breaking Barriers to Clean Energy

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Fashion icon Gisele Bündchen @giseleofficial is a Goodwill Ambassador for
the UN Environment Programme. She has been dubbed the world’s ‘greenest’
celebrity. After a more than five-mile walk to gather firewood with women in Kenya, she speaks out about the need for modern energy to reduce women’s labour and reduce pollution.

Cross-posted from UN Women

Gisele with women from Kisumu in Kenya
Gisele talking to local women from Kisumu about their dangerous journeys to collect firewood for cookstoves. Photo: © Practical Action

Fashion icon Gisele Bündchen @giseleofficial is a Goodwill Ambassador for
the UN Environment Programme. She has been dubbed the world’s ‘greenest’
celebrity.

I believe that if you want to help the world be a better place, you have to
learn about what is happening in different countries. When we break out of our
bubbles, we can see what we can do to make change.

I went to Kenya, for example. I learned a lot about the problems of
environment and energy, and also how amazing women are when they work together.

I could see for myself what the Beijing Platform for Action means. This
visionary agenda for women’s empowerment was adopted almost 20 years ago, yet it
already talks about gender inequalities in managing natural resources and
safeguarding the environment, and how we need to break these barriers.

Too often, women suffer from environmental damages with little say in how to
do things differently. At the same time, women are on the frontlines of
protecting our environment. We understand that our futures depend on it.

Did you know how big an impact a simple wood-burning stove can have on a
woman’s life? People use these because they do not have modern energy-like
electricity. The stoves produce a lot of toxic smoke. This harms the environment
and human health. More people die from this smoke than malaria—globally, about
4.3 million every year. That is horrible. In rural Kenya, however, people don’t
have other options—only 4 per cent have access to electricity.

Getting enough wood for the stoves is also a huge burden for women, who spend
many hours collecting and carrying it. I wanted to see this for myself, so I
went with women in a village outside Kenya’s city of Kisumu. At least two times
a week they gather wood, leaving at dawn and coming home at dusk. Because so
many nearby trees have already been cut down, they have to walk for many hours.

The day I went we travelled more than five miles, which they said was a short
trip. The heat was intense, and we had to carry heavy tools. The women told me
they were worried about how so much of the forest had been cut down. They
wondered where they would get wood in the future.

When we arrived at a place to cut wood, we found it full of thorns that
pricked our fingers. Each woman cut about 40 kilogrammes—enough to fill two very
large suitcases. They carried it back on their heads. I could only carry about
one-fifth of what they normally do.

It made me see how modern energy is vital to people’s lives. These women are
strong and work hard to care for and feed their families, but they need new
kinds of fuel.

Fortunately, more and more women in Kenya and in other countries are involved
in solutions to this problem, like slow-cooking stoves made from local clay and
smoke hoods that reduce pollution in homes by up to 70 per cent. The stoves use
50 per cent less wood—it’s a win-win for people and the environment.

One of my favorite people on my trip to Kenya was Naomi, a community leader.
She has developed a fireless cooker, which conserves wood and reduces smoke
inside. It keeps food warm for eight hours after cooking, so fires can be put
out to conserve wood.

Even though she faces many challenges, Naomi maintains a refreshingly
positive outlook on life. She shared with me the great joy she gets from making
others laugh! I saw she was well-liked and respected by other women in her
village.

There are many women like her around the world: smart, strong and positive.
We all benefit when they share their energy and their ideas, unrestricted by
gender inequality. Our common environment is too big a concern to leave anyone
out of better caring for it, and women are central to finding solutions.

I believe we should all have a dream no matter what our circumstances are. The women I met in Kenya reminded me of how important it is to never give up. They showed me that empowering women means empowering humanity. We should always believe in ourselves and our power to make a difference.

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