World Pulse

NIGERIA: Women Smoking Unconsciously Just To Feed Others

Olanike
Posted July 8, 2015 from Nigeria

“There is an urgent need for increased awareness on and access to clean, safe, and affordable cooking options like solar cookers, clean cook stoves, and wonder bags.

Greengirl profile image

Greengirl | Nigeria

Many women in Nigeria suffer ailments resulting from the use of firewood. The World Health Organization states that “Over 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from use of firewood. If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is equivalent to smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarettes a day.”

I grew up in a middle class home, where the choice of heating and cooking fuel was well within our control. Gas, kerosene, or open fire stoves were on hand, and the type of food, as well as quantity of what was to be cooked determined the means employed. For foods like beans, thekerosene stove was a ready option while meals like rice and yam were prepared on the gas cooker. My mum only made use of firewood when large cooking needed to be done, particularly, during festivities such as birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, and anniversaries. As a rule, such cooking was done outdoors!

In Nigeria, traditional open fire stoves fueled by firewood come in handy for domestic cooking and heating. Those who cannot afford to use cleaner alternatives or buy sufficient firewood spend long hours each day searching for fuel wood, or resort to collecting and using various forms of biomass: dead wood, grass, shrubs, saw dust, wood chips, trimmings, twigs, animal dung, crop residue, and related plant materials. While this is possible for women in rural areas, their urban counterparts mostly rely on firewood merchants.

In addition to the daily struggles and troubles that women face in finding sufficient firewood to meet their energy needs, the smoke and residue from their open fire stoves pose grave dangers to their health. Those who are most susceptible are women like Hauwa Jubrin who cooks with firewood in her poorly ventilated 3.24 square meter kitchen.

At the time of my visit, Hauwa was in her windowless kitchen. She was hard at work scouring black soot off the back of a large pot that had obviously been used over her open fireplace.

With Hauwa’s permission, I pushed the half opened metal door, which doubles as access into her kitchen and her family’s dwelling. I gingerly stepped into the fume-clouded kitchen. The smoke blackened walls were eye-catching as the rays of the mid-morning sun beamed in from a bordering doorway that leads to the main house. Haphazardly placed buckets, bowls, tripod pots, kitchen utensils, wooden mortars, weather beaten shelves, ash, and a fireplace occupied whatever little space was available on the flaked concrete floor. The stand for the fireplace was three, big, well-stationed stones.

I watched with stinging eyes as a handful of firewood sandwiched between the stones, burned and bellowed fumes. “The smoke disturbs me, and is killing my eyes. I use firewood because I don’t have money to buy a stove or gas,” lamented Hauwa as she sniffled and attempted to wipe away dripping tears with the back of her wet, ash-soiled hands.

According to Hauwa she “uses about 150 Naira ($0.75 US) worth of firewood daily.” Hours after I left her house, I could still feel the irritation from the smoke in my eyes and throat.

In an attempt to nourish their families, countless women are undoubtedly exposed to smoke and toxins that are associated with an endless list of health problems, including pneumonia, lung cancer, low birth weight, and impaired vision. Some women are knowledgeable about the negative effects of using firewood for cooking, and do their best to stay away from the smoking fire while cooking.

Standing by the big pot of meal she was cooking over an open fire, in her semi-open kitchen space, another woman, Khadijat, said, “I don’t always stay by the fire when I am cooking. However, if I am cooking something like tuwo masara (meal made from corn flour), I have to stay there to make it”.

When asked if the smoke from the fire disturbs her in any way she explains further. “It depends! For example, it is not good for someone who is asthmatic or who has related ailments; but if you are normal, there is no problem”.

“Do you know of any woman who developed such an ailment as a result of using firewood?” I curiously added. “Many people!” she exclaims and suddenly calls out to her mother (who all the while was standing by and listening thoughtfully). Khadijat went on to cite an example of a woman who she referred to as Mai-waina (a person who makes and sells Waina, or Hausa rice cake). Waina is cooked over open fire in a baked mud pot that has muffin-sized holes. Khadijat suspects that Mai-waina developed high blood pressure and weakness from long years of doing Waina business.

Many women remain stuck to the age long tradition of cooking over open fire stoves as they believe that it cooks food faster, properly, and makes it tastier. Queen, a young lady who does most of the cooking in her family’s home, just loves to cook with firewood. She believes that if one is healthy, and does not stay too long around the fireplace, the smoke does not pose any health risks. In another vein, Aunty Salamatu, an accomplished academic, said, “I only use firewood during festive seasons like Easter and Christmas. At such times it is helpful for large domestic cooking. Whenever I have to resort to cooking with firewood, I do it outdoors and stay away because of my health”.

My organization, Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE), is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. WISE hopes to continue exploring such partnerships towards saving disadvantaged women from avoidable and stoppable exposures to deadly cooking options. There is an urgent need for increased awareness on and access to clean, safe, and affordable cooking options like solar cookers, clean cook stoves, wonder bags. I remainhopeful that the predicaments of smoke scenting and distressed women will be tackled, decisively.


About this story
This story was written for the World Pulse and No CeilingsPath to Participation Initiative. With this initiative, we crowdsourced stories from World Pulse's global community to helpturn theNo Ceilings: The Full Participation Reportinto a blueprint for action on the ground.Click hereto browse through the126 submissions we received from over 30 countries.

Comments 24

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Carolyn Seaman
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

Hi Olanike,

This is a great article! And I agree with you that there is need for increased awareness on and access to clean, safe and affordable cooking options as there is need for increased awareness for Nigerians (particularly women) on many issues. I imagine that you have worked or are in contact with World Pulse's Olutosin with her Treasure Cooking Bags which also provide alternative cooking options. If not, see her post, https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/olutosin/posts/37311 and explore connecting with her.

On the issue of awareness, I run a media outfit that is open to producing global standard short documentaries/films that address social issues like the hazard smoke presents to women who cook with firewood and other smoke-emitting options like bad kerosene stoves etc. However, we may be slightly challenged in the area of distance (as I imagine you are based in Lagos whereas I am based in Abuja). But, I believe we can work around such challenges and develop creative productions that put the message out there to enlighten our women. 

So, we can further think and talk this through and pool resources together to start making the difference. At least, that is why we have the knowledge, the experience and the capacity we have. We just need to network and put these resources to good use and for the benefit of women who continue to be victims of this environmental hazard. 

Once again, I appreciate the passion behind your article and I look forward to the proactive steps we are able to take to achieve the recommendations you have shared in this piece. Well done!

Carolyn Seaman

Marksmen Consult 

Abuja-Nigeria

http://marksmenconsult.com/home/

carolynseaman@hotmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/carolyn.seamann

@carolyn_seaman

Olanike
Aug 08, 2015
Aug 08, 2015

Hello Carolyn,

How are you today? I have since reponded to your comment, but only just realized today that I posted it as a new comment instead of as a reply. Kindly pardon the oversight, as I have not been so active online for quite a while now. My organization is currently  implementing a Plastic Bag Recycling and Upscaling project, and it's really been a very demanding period for me. I sure look forward to connecting with you in real time.

Please find below, my earlier response:

12 July, 2015 20:11 by [Nigeria]  Greengirl

Dear Carolyn Seaman,

Many thanks to you for your highly motivating feed back and openess towards possible work collaborations between and among us as women and change agents! There's sure no doubt that there is much we can do to create and spread awareness on this much overlooked 'killer issue' called open fire cooking. Yes we can work together! There is more I  will share with you through a private message, so expect that from me shortly.

Yes I am aware of sister Tosin's wonder bag and we are in touch, and hoping to explore some frontiers for promoting her wonder bag products. I am sure that before long, we will be able to come up with or work out a plan before long.

So glad to hear from you! Together we CAN!

Hugs,

Olanike

Olanike
Jul 12, 2015
Jul 12, 2015

Dear Carolyn Seaman,

Many thanks to you for your highly motivating feed back and openess towards possible work collaborations between and among us as women and change agents! There's sure no doubt that there is much we can do to create and spread awareness on this much overlooked 'killer issue' called open fire cooking. Yes we can work together! There is more I  will share with you through a private message, so expect that from me shortly.

Yes I am aware of sister Tosin's wonder bag and we are in touch, and hoping to explore some frontiers for promoting her wonder bag products. I am sure that before long, we will be able to come up with or work out a plan before long.

So glad to hear from you! Together we CAN!

Hugs,

Olanike

JANEKALU
Jul 13, 2015
Jul 13, 2015

Hi Olanike.

This story is an eye opener. i never knew this much.rememering those days in the village that we use firewood to cook inside unventilated kitchen.decieving ourself  it burn faster than stove we never know we were killing ourself slowly.

thanks for this story

Jane.

Olanike
Jul 14, 2015
Jul 14, 2015

Hello Jane,

Great to hear from you and sincere appreciation to you for sharing your first hand experience. The allarming reality remains that most people are still in the dark about the grave environmental and health risks associated with open fire cooking. However, with increased awareness, I am sure people, especially women, will start opting for clean, safe and healthy cooking and heating options.

Let's keep spreading the word!

Best wishes,

Olanike

libudsuroy
Jul 17, 2015
Jul 17, 2015

Dear Olanike,

Thank you for bringing to the fore a health issue that resonates in the lives of most women in rural areas of the world and veering the discussion towards solutions. How ironic that the very hearth of the home from where nutritious meals are prepared for family members is also the source of pollution that targets womenfolk. Thank you for making the connections between women's well-being and the loss of forest cover as well as pollution.

Olanike
Aug 09, 2015
Aug 09, 2015

Dearest Libudsuroy,

A million hugs to you for being such an amazing sister, ally and motivator. Our love for and the language of nature connects us and as always, I feel very empowered by your words. Thank you for reaching out!

Hugs,

Mercy Dada
Jul 26, 2015
Jul 26, 2015

Hello Olanike,

Thank you for sharing this most enlightening piece. Someone once said, "to be forewarned is to be fore-armed"

 As a person who has had the experience of being in an environment where unhealthy cooking practices were carried out, I have to say that indeed It's about time we get this message out there and into peoples' lives.

Over the years, several health issues have been dealt with but there has been only slight improvement. The root of this challenge is in how much people know of the dangers involved in these unhealthy practices and the level of critical awareness.

This is the only way we can individually make neccessary changes.

Regards, Mercy

Olanike
Aug 09, 2015
Aug 09, 2015

Hello Mercy,

Thank you so much for reaching out with your rich and highly encouraging line of thought. We are definitely on the same page on the importance of getting the message out there. There is no doubt that when people become aware of the grave dangers associated with unhealthy cooking practices, they will ready opt for cleaner and safer optiontions.

Let's keep spreading the word!

Warmly,

Olanike

otahelp
Jul 29, 2015
Jul 29, 2015

My greengirl is at it again. Really the harzard in cooking in open fire and woods cannot be equated but come what may, most women still prefer it as they will tell you that it is faster and the taste of the food is better than all these modern way of cooking.

When i see women still frying garri in the wood, (of course i have not heard of any other alternative to frying garri) they spend hours by the fire ( i have a first hand experience on this when i was young) doing their work silently with joy. Women will forever remain blessed as caregivers. 

All we ask for is a little recognition and a better treatment and its like we are asking for life itself from the society.

thank you so much for this great piece. kudos.

Olanike
Aug 09, 2015
Aug 09, 2015

Dear Otahelp,

Your opening words warmed my heart, so much that it triggered a wide smile on my face. Simply put, your words were electrifying! Thank you sister for your solidarity and support.

What you highlighted about the caregiving nature of women can never be overemphasized. It is one intrinsic nature that can nver be taken away from womenfolk. Hmmmmmm, what you said about not knowing of any alternatives to the  frying of garri over open fire, is thought provoking. Like you, I don't know of any available options which will be readily accessible to and affordable for the women engage in the business.

Now, the whole issue is not unconnected to the age long practice of marginalizing women in all spheres of life. It is about time women rise up and take their own destininies into their own hands, by finding solutions to the myriad of challenges that seem not to go away. With better/increased access to information, capital, decision making and related resources/opportunities, I am sure that women will change thier lots and the world for the best.

You will agree with me that no woman wll stick to unhealthy practices that will jeopardise her health as well as that of her family and community if she has the power of choice. I dear say that change will begin when women learn to recognize, maximise and celebrate their potentials instead of waiting for the malefolk to determine every and anything that is possible for women. I look forward to seeing a clean technology for garri frying designed by an indigenous woman. What do you think?

Love,

Olanike

rosemary_ntoipo
Aug 22, 2015
Aug 22, 2015

Dear Olanike,

Thanks alot for sharing this. This is what many women in of our communities around the world use. Am sending you something shortly and see whether this works out for your community. You are a wonderful blessing to women in the world.

Blessings.

Warm regards,

Rosemary.

Olanike
Aug 23, 2015
Aug 23, 2015

Dear Rosemary,

You are such an amazing woman! Thank you so much for believing in me enough to share invaluable  resources with me. Your message was received and I have checked out the website and also sent the organization an email. I will keep you  posted on the outcome(s).

It makes a world of difference when we are able to identify, discuss,and work together towards finding solutions to issues that matter to us. Overdependence on fuel wood is sure a women's issue, and should matter to every woman. I trust that with increased awareness about the downsides of open fire cooking, change is inevitable. 

I sincerely appreciate you and wish you the very best.

With hearfelt gratitude,

Olanike

Aug 23, 2015
Aug 23, 2015
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Colleen Abdoulah
Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015

dear Olanike,

thank you for educating me on this issue. I had no idea. I am going to look up your organization and see if I may provide some support. GOOD for you for taking action and working to do something about this for the women who so desperately need this help,

blessings to you,

Colleen

Olanike
Sep 22, 2015
Sep 22, 2015

Dear  Colleen,

Your words of acknowledgement mean a lot to me, and I am happy to know that you learned something from the piece. I feel motivated to keep contributing my best towards the drive foor a better and just world.

Sincerely,

Olanike

Colleen Abdoulah
Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015

I went to the Global Alliance website and tried to find WISE under partners and was unable to do so...how do I find you and donate to your efforts?

Olanike
Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015

Hello Colleen,

I am truly touched by the effort you made to find WISE on the website of The Global Alliance fr Clean Cookstoves. Here's a direct link to my organization's information on the website: http://cleancookstoves.org/partners/item/999/2143.

Our website is www.wisenigeria.org. However, it is still thematic and we are unable to receive donations through that channel for now. I will send you a private message to share further details with you. Thank you so much for your interest in supporting my efforts. God bless you always, in all ways!

Deepest gratitude,

Olanike (Greengirl)

Sep 14, 2015
Sep 14, 2015
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Colleen Abdoulah
Sep 15, 2015
Sep 15, 2015

also; what do you need to make your website capable of receivning donations?

Olanike
Sep 16, 2015
Sep 16, 2015

Thanks for asking Colleen. My work thrives majorly on self funding, hence we are yet to have a dedicated web administrator. Sometime ago, we got another one redesigned and uploaded but it had to be taken doan again as there was no one on hand to manage the process of uploading the information we wanted to put up. The person who designed the website is also based in the United States, and it's been a herculean task sending heavy documents to them for uploading. As you can already imagine, that to a very large extent has restricted the extent of what we can do with the website; one of which is receiving donations.

Nonetheless, in the light of the question you raised, I will make some inquiries from person who championed the design of the static-thematic website we have up.

Thanks for asking, as I am stirred to find a solution.

With gratitude,

Olanike

Olubee
Sep 29, 2015
Sep 29, 2015

The idea of cooking with woods is an age long pratices in Nigeria, which will take continous awareness to eradicate or reduce to its barest minimum.When i was very young  despite the fact that we use stove to cook my grand mother will still find occassion to use the firewood to cook.But for me i never get used to the use of the fire wood,because of the way it makes one feel uncomfortable breathing.

In Nigeria,it very common to see some household using this to cook because they cant afford to use stove or cooker   to cook their meals.Infact almost all household use it when they have big parties such as marriage ceremony because they believe its more economical for them, as well as its like part of the tradition.

They fail to see the harmful effect of using this deadly methods of cooking,continues use of the method is liking to smoking and most of the time, it is the women and children that are expose to this harmful pratice.

Most women that fry ankara(bean cake) by the road side use firewood for their trade in the bid to provide for their family.Not knowing the are killing themslvs bit by bit.

But i fell this pratices is gradually fading away as most people that trade with it,now use cooker for their businss,especially in the south west of Nigeria than than in other part of the country.

So, i believe with Olanike and Carolyn that coitious awareness will help curb the manace and alternative method of cooking be made available to women especially in the rural area.

The idea of a documentary on the issues is a great one.

keep up the good work

Regards

Bukola

Olanike
Oct 02, 2015
Oct 02, 2015

Hello Olubee,

Your thoughts on the issue of women's reliance on firewood for meeting their domestic and commercial cooking obligations is quite appreciated. It's heartwarming to also know about the big changes that is already happening in the southwestern parts of Nigeria, as attested by you. It sure would be great to see the changes spread like wildfire to every nook and cranny of our beloved country and beyond.

Thank you for acknowledging Carolyn and I; and also giving credence to the need for increased awareness efforts. Moving ahead, I am hopeful that ways will be worked out to make the proposed documentary happen before long. Let's keep the conversation going.

Warmly,

Olanike

cewoldt
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016

The solution is not that simple. A friend of ours developed a solar cooker using gourds and foil, etc. It was not accepted for social factors. For many women in Northern Nigeria, going out to collect cooking wood is the only time they are allowed out of their compound. They were understandably not willing to give up their time with other women. The underlying issues need to be addressed as well.