From Gas to Ash: The Struggle of Nigerian Women Amidst Surging Cooking Gas Prices

Africa, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

KWARA, Nigeria, Mar 1 2024 (IPS) – One sunny mid-morning in Omu-Aran village, a community in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, Iyabo Sunday sat beside a firewood stand observing her pot of beans with rice (a combination enjoyed by many in Nigeria).

The 52-year-old widow used her plastic dirt parker to fan the flames, occasionally blowing air through her mouth for speed and frantically shielding her face from the wisps of smoke that curled from the firewood.

After a hike in electricity tariffs, Sunday told IPS that she abandoned her electric-powered stove for cooking gas. But instability in the “economy has successfully caused me to move back to the firewood since my children and I must eat.”

Oyedele Christiana, a 41-year-old restaurateur who specializes in making fufu, a local delicacy made from cassava, expressed her wish to stop using firewood and charcoal but was constrained by finances. “The smoke enters my eyes and makes me cough a lot.  I usually use firewood for my canteen business, while I use charcoal at home for household cooking.”

Like Iyabo, Christiana made use of cooking gas. The sporadic increase in the price of domestic gas has since pushed her to the traditional cooking method, with its attendant havoc on her eyes and lungs. “I am not as old as I look, but cooking has done this,” Oyedele sighed.

The price of cooking gas in Nigeria has soared wildly amid the country’s inflation woes. The removal of subsidy on petrol products, together with a depreciation of the naira, has resulted in a steep increase in the cost of food and transportation. This hike in the cost of living comes amid a minimum wage of N30,000 ($18), ranked among the lowest in the world, according to Picodi.

The price of 12.5 kg of cooking gas increased from N7,413. ($4) in 2022 to N16,875 ($10) in February 2024 across the country, a price just half the national minimum wage.

Implications on Women, Environment

Women living in grassroots communities who can no longer afford cooking gas have no choice but to bear the harsh method of cooking with firewood. Many, like Ajayi Omole, an octogenarian living in Akungba, a town in Ondo State, have made cooking with firewood a delight due to the lack of alternatives.

“We usually go into the forest, get the trees, sun dry (them), and prepare them for cooking.” However, she said, “I have a stove inside my room but I can’t use it because I don’t have enough to purchase kerosene.”

The nation’s alarming poverty circle, where Iyabo and Oyedele belong, speaks loudly about the reality of clean cooking. Statistics indicate that 63 percent of the entire population mostly relies on traditional method cooking, usually described as ‘dirty’.

The National Council on Climate Change (NCCC) has stated that, aside from the dangers of deforestation and climate destruction, the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking directly affects women’s health. This is in agreement with figures from the Federal Ministry of Environment about how more than 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood.

Aisha Sulaiman, a renewable energy and green hydrogen technologist, said that rising prices of cooking gas have caused many to transition back to the use of firewood and charcoal, leading many women to multiple health issues. She emphasized that women suffer stronger health issues as secondhand smokers.

She said, “In an African setting, women belong to the kitchen; that’s how the narrative is, even if that is not supposed to be. In rural communities, the main source of energy in terms of cooking is the traditional method, which is unsustainable and harmful.

“The traditional methods of cooking involve charcoal and firewood. These are materials that lead to the release of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, into our environment, and this in turn contributes to global warming, which brings about climate change.”

Speaking on women’s health, Sulaiman mentioned that respiratory diseases could stem from inhaling smoke from charcoal and firewood. “These methods are a source of air pollution, which can cause serious health issues. Overexposure to the smoke also leads to a disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is very endemic to women,’’ she said. Sulaiman added that the Nigerian government should prioritize making clean energy accessible and cost-competitive to procure its acceptance by the people in low-income communities.

Ibrahim Muhammad, an energy consultant and team lead at Climate Alaramma Sustainable Development Initiative, a youth-led environmental organization in northern Nigeria, argued that the transition back to the traditional method of cooking would increase deforestation. He said the increase in LPG’s price is connected to the nation’s economic downturn.

In his words, “There is extensive research demonstrating the significant impact of traditional cooking methods on women and children. These methods contribute to deforestation and air pollution, particularly through the emission of smoke.”

Muhammad noted that women’s transition to traditional cooking was a setback in Nigeria’s transition plan to energy, especially in the area of clean cooking.

The Nigerian government and international development partners must find avenues for cleaning cooking infrastructure to be subsidized so that rural communities, mostly affected, can be able to afford it. According to him, “Considering the nature of some communities that are into agriculture, they are expected to be supported with infrastructure that can help them use this agricultural waste to cook.  Additionally, the prices of these clean cooking stoves that are being developed are subsidized.”

Speaking further on alternatives, he added, “Briquettes, produced from agricultural waste, typically resemble charcoal and can perform all the functions of charcoal. They are energy-efficient and made from various agricultural waste materials, thus not promoting deforestation.”

Muhammad added that harmless solutions should be created to fit in Nigeria’s context; electric stoves may be considered impossible due to unstable electricity.

“Solar cookers are typically used when it is sunny, but many people hardly have lunch, they mostly focus on breakfast and dinner. Many women cook early in the morning or evening, so we need to tailor solutions to our specific circumstances,’’ he said.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Nigerian Women Challenge ‘Colonialist’ Patriarchy

Africa, Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Identity, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Women & Economy

Bukes Saliu, a forklift driver, is a Nigerian woman who challenging stereotypes. Credit: Promise Eze/IPS

Bukes Saliu, a forklift driver, is a Nigerian woman who challenging stereotypes. Credit: Promise Eze/IPS

LAGOS, Sep 28 2023 (IPS) – Bukes Saliu wakes up very early every workday to beat the gruesome Lagos traffic to head to a job quite unusual for a woman to engage in Nigeria. She is a forklift operator in one of the busy depots in the coastal city, a task traditionally meant for men in the West African country.

In a country where women are seen as second-class citizens and whose roles are expected to be confined to the kitchen, Saliu is not letting patriarchal norms put her in a box.

“People are always thrilled when I tell them what I do. Sometimes I get snide remarks from some men I work with, but I don’t allow that to get to me,” Saliu says.

In August 2022, her curiosity was piqued when she came across a post on WhatsApp from her friend featuring a woman confidently posed beside a forklift machine. That ignited her interest in the job. Soon after, she enrolled in training to become a skilled forklift operator.

“It was a change of career path for me. I used to be a project manager with a non-profit, but I left the job to be a forklift operator. The first day I started work, I was a bit afraid, but now I operate the machine like any other man would do. I believe that women should be allowed at the table because it brings different perspectives, ideas, and experiences,” she adds.

Patriarchy Lives in Nigeria

Discrimination against women has been a serious problem in Nigeria. Women still grapple with an array of challenges and are marginalized despite the Nigerian constitution providing for gender equality and nondiscrimination

Women face a heavier burden of violence, and different types of bias, which creates significant obstacles in their quest for gender equality. This is frequently caused by unfair laws, religious and cultural traditions, gender stereotypes, limited education opportunities, and the unequal impact of poverty on women.

Although the government has attempted to tackle these deep-rooted issues, the pace of progress remains sluggish. Women’s representation within politics and decision-making spheres remains poor. For example, out of a total of 15,307 candidates in the 2023 general elections, only 1,550 were women. Only three women were elected as senators as against nine in the last election, and only one woman emerged as a presidential candidate.

Women are often excluded from economic prospects. Within Nigeria’s populace exceeding 200 million, a mere 60.5 million people contribute to its labor force. Among this workforce, around 27.1 million women participate, a significant portion of whom find themselves involved in low-skilled employment. Nigeria’s position on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index is a lowly 123rd out of 156 nations.

Swimming Against the Tide

A limited number of women are challenging conventional gender norms for the purpose of livelihood, stepping into roles that are male dominated in Nigeria. However, this transition is often met with resistance and negative reactions.

In 2021, Iyeyemi Adediran gained widespread attention for her exceptional mastery of driving long-haul trucks for oil companies. However, despite her remarkable skill, the then 26-year-old shared that she faced derogatory remarks for daring to break gender norms associated with truck driving—an occupation traditionally considered male-dominated.

In 2015, Sandra Aguebor, Nigeria’s first female mechanic, gained widespread attention for her all-female garages across the country. However, she revealed that her mother initially did not support her ambitions, believing that fixing cars should only be done by men.

Faith Oyita, a shoemaker in Benue State, Nigeria, is not letting patriarchal norms stop her. Despite Aba, a growing men-led market in southeast Nigeria, dominating the shoemaking industry, Oyita has been determined to make a name for herself since 2015, even though she resides kilometers away. She says she has trained over 300 other people on how to make shoes.

“When I first started, I didn’t care about the challenges that came with shoemaking. I had a deep passion for it, and I wanted to beautify people’s legs. Even though it was a skill dominated by men, I was determined to do things differently. I knew that greatness doesn’t come from convenience. In the beginning, many people questioned why I chose shoemaking. Even the man who taught me was hesitant and doubted my potential. I was the only female among all his apprentices, and many assumed that I came because I wanted to date him. Despite all the negative remarks, I never gave up,” she tells IPS.

Patriarchy Came Through Colonialism

“A lot of what is happening today is not how we originally lived our lives as Nigerian women. Patriarchy actually entered our society during the colonial era. Before colonization, both men and women were able to do things without being restricted by gender. Historically, women were involved in trading goods and services, and they could even marry multiple wives for themselves.

“However, when the colonialists arrived, they distorted our culture and, using religion, promoted the idea that men held more power. We should strive to correct this narrative. It’s unfortunate that we have been socialized to believe that men should always be in leadership positions and that women should only be in a man’s home,” says Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi, Executive Director, HEIR Women Hub.

Speaking further, Ola-Olaniyi argues that women who want to break gender norms must have a change of mindset and be ready to face challenges.

“The country that colonized us has their women driving buses and flying planes. They have progressed from where they colonized us. But Nigeria has failed to empower its women. When a Nigerian woman does something that is traditionally seen as only for men, it is seen as a big accomplishment. However, she has always been capable of doing those things. It’s just that the opportunities were not available. I don’t even think it’s a switch in gender roles. I believe that women are simply starting to realize their potential,” she tells IPS.

IPS UN Bureau Report


How Nigeria’s Legal System is Failing to Safeguard Widows’ Rights

Nigerian law protects widows, but the reality they face is quite different.

Nigerian law protects widows, but the reality they face is quite different.

By Promise Eze

In February this year, Chichi Okonkwo not only lost her husband but was stripped of everything they owned together. Her husband was severely injured in a car accident about a month earlier. Despite being rushed to a hospital in Enugu, where they resided, he succumbed to his injuries weeks later. To compound her grief, Okonkwo’s late husband’s male siblings forcibly entered her home in the city a few hours after his passing, confiscating her husband’s land documents, car, money, clothes, and marriage certificate.

In the wake of these heart-wrenching events, Okonkwo was left with nothing but her six children. The eldest is just 18.

“They took everything my husband and I owned and forcibly evicted me and my children from our home,” laments Okonkwo. “They heartlessly claimed that, as a widow, I had no rights to any of my late husband’s possessions.”

Okonkwo’s children are now out of school because she was a housewife who depended on her husband’s income and is now left with nothing. She revealed that her late husband’s siblings, who seized and were aware of his bank PIN, callously left her with a mere 1 000 naira (approximately USD 2) out of the 2 million naira ($2,600) he had in his account.

Okonkwo said her husband’s relatives swore to drag her to court to challenge her rights, but she cannot afford a lawyer due to her financial situation.

In Nigeria, there are around 15 million widows.

Unfortunately, widows in the country often face the denial of their basic human rights due to traditional and cultural practices rooted in patriarchal beliefs.

According to The World Bank, “In much of Africa, marriage is the sole basis for women’s access to social and economic rights, and these are lost upon divorce or widowhood.”

In a country like Nigeria, where men dominate the economic and political systems, women are often expected to be submissive. The challenges women face are particularly amplified when they become widows, creating a doubly marginalized subgroup. Moreover, this vulnerable position sometimes exposes widows to dehumanizing rituals and harmful practices.

These harmful practices include mourning rites that involve widows sleeping with their deceased husbands’ corpses, shaving of widows’ heads, seclusion, wearing black or white clothes, and being forced to sleep and sit on the floor or mat. Additionally, some widows are coerced into marrying other members of the deceased husband’s family.

Despite laws granting women the right to inherit their husbands’ assets, many widows can still not claim their rightful share of land and property.

Efforts to combat these practices, such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) enacted in 2015, have faced challenges in implementation and adoption by all states. According to the law, offenders are subject to a 500,000 naira ($648) fine or two years in prison. But arrests and prosecution of offenders are rare. And gender-based violence has persisted, which includes violence towards widows.

The enforcement of laws against offenders has been hindered by religious and cultural norms that promote silence and suppression of victimization cases. Victims often face threats or pressure from family members, community, or religious leaders whenever they try to report incidents to law enforcement.

Like Okonkwo, Sarah Temidayo’s life took a tragic turn when she lost her husband of four years to lung cancer in 2019. However, her grief was compounded by the actions of her husband’s relatives, who invaded her home in Lagos mere hours after his passing, intent on claiming everything that belonged to him. They even went so far as to take her wedding gown, certificates, and her then-five-year-old daughter’s clothes. Devastated and without recourse, Temitope sought justice through the legal system, but her efforts have yielded no results.

“I did not pick a pin out of my house. I had to start my life all over again,” she says.

Unfortunately, the nightmare did not end there for Temidayo. She was subjected to constant threats from her husband’s mother, who continued to torment her and accuse her of killing her son through witchcraft. These threats escalated to a terrifying climax when assassins attacked her at a bus stop in March 2021. She managed to survive, albeit with six bullets lodged in her leg. Despite reporting the incident to the police, no investigation was conducted, leaving her feeling abandoned by the system meant to protect her.

According to Ifeoma Oguejiofor, a legal practitioner in Southeast Nigeria, widows face challenges in seeking justice due to the understaffed courts, which can cause delays in the resolution of cases. Additionally, the financial burden of hiring a lawyer becomes a significant obstacle for many widows, making it difficult to access proper legal representation to handle their cases.

“There is a significant difference between the laws written in books and the actual pursuit of justice. According to the law, a surviving spouse, whether in a traditional marriage, a long period of cohabitation, or a marriage registered under the act, is entitled to inherit the estate of their deceased spouse. However, achieving justice through the legal system is often a prolonged and costly process, particularly for widows who have already lost a substantial portion of their assets to their husband’s relatives,” she explains.

“It’s high time the government, traditional rulers, and religious clerics enforce laws to protect widows in Nigeria. No woman should be discriminated against because she lost her husband,” says Hope Nwakwesi, the founder of Almanah Hope Foundation, a non-governmental organization focused on supporting Nigerian widows.

Nwakwesi, a widow who lost her police husband in 1994, endured distressing cultural rites, including having her hair shaved and wearing a mourning dress for a year. She faced further hardships as her relatives forcibly took her property, and she was expelled from her workplace and home in the police barracks. Despite seeking help, many, including police officers who offered assistance, demanded sexual favors in return.

Now, Nwakwesi is advocating for a bill in Nigeria’s legislative chamber. The bill aims to eradicate repressive cultural practices against widows and safeguard their fundamental human rights.

“My goal is to get the bill I’m fighting for approved and signed into law by the Senate. The current Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law is too vague and lacks specific clauses for protecting the rights of widows. Once the new bill becomes law, those who discriminate against widows will face arrest and prosecution by law enforcement agencies,” says Nwakwesi.

Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a civil rights activist and founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, noted that “For the government to protect widows effectively, they should review and update existing laws related to widows’ rights to ensure they are comprehensive, enforceable, and in line with international human rights standards.”

“Merely having laws in place is not enough; the government must ensure their effective implementation at all levels of the justice system. This requires training and sensitizing law enforcement officials, judges, and legal practitioners on the rights of widows and the importance of protecting them,” she adds.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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