Solar ovens: Challenging traditional gender roles in the Amazon

A few months ago, we shared a blog from Emma Donlan (Christian Aid Country Manager in Bolivia) who explained a bit about the work of our shared partner Soluciones Practicas. Here she updates us on the use of solar ovens in the Amazon, and how their benefits reach far beyond their practical uses... 

"I spent the weekend up in Rurrenabaque with women leaders who came together from across the Amazon, many travelling for over 2 days by foot, boat and long bus journeys to share their experience of receiving and using the solar ovens over the past year.

They were representatives of the 20 communities and over 250 families we have now reached with solar ovens. These women have taken up the role of leadership in their communities to provide technical and moral support to the families who are integrating this new technology into their lives.

On Saturday morning we had a meeting in the local university with municipal leaders and community authorities who joined us to congratulate the women and present them with certificates and the new recipe books that the project has produced  - and of course to sample the delicious food that was prepared in the ovens. It was like the 'Great Bolivian Bake Off' as we enjoyed all sorts of cakes, breads, marmalades, steamed fish, chicken stew, desiccated coconut etc. as well as marvelling at they increasingly innovative ways that they are using the ovens to make handicrafts for drying wood and seed and even for preparing natural plant medicines.

It was a truly celebratory day and very moving to hear the words of each woman as they shared with us the impact that these ovens have had on their lives. I think what most moved me was how they correlate the use of the oven to looking after the environment and the future of their communities.

Solar Oven 1.jpg

It is very clear that the ovens are so much more than “a domestic appliance”. They have come to represent in a very real way, that alternative low carbon energy models of development are possible and are being implemented. This is especially relevant in the current context of this Amazonian region where the government plans to build hydroelectric plants and is prospecting for oil and gas which will destroy the livelihoods and delicate ecosystems of the forests which, only 2 weeks ago, were recognised as the most biodiverse place on the planet.

We were really impressed by the women. For many it was their first time leaving their regions and their communities to travel so far, and for the way that they spoke out against these threats and the need to develop local solutions to protect their land rights and the environment. They talked about the amount of time they have saved and the fact that they are no longer tied to the kitchen all morning and this gives them time to spend more time talking with other outside the home. We detected a new confidence in them to speak up and assume this leadership role. We're now considering how we can extend this solar oven initiative to other communities which are under threat and where there is very low participation of women in decision-making processes and public spaces. These are the places where implementing  “gender and female leadership” workshops is often difficult because of the existing domestic burden of women and the suspicions of the men in the community of challenging gender relationships.

The solar oven project has succeeded in doing just that, challenging gender relationships, not only giving women more time to do other things outside the home but also it has brought men and women together to learn how to build the ovens and to cook with them. One women this weekend told me that it would have been unthinkable for her to have left her home to attend an event like this a few months ago as her children would have gone hungry, but now she can leave her husband in charge of the kitchen and he was happy and confident to prepare meals for all the family – something that would never have happened in the past before they had the solar oven.

On Sunday, the women took the ovens to the local market where they prepared food and sold small plates of chicken stew to the lines of people who queued up, eager to try food cooked in the ovens. I looked on as the women explained how they prepared the food, how the oven could work in the sun or on rainy days as a thermal cooker. Within minutes they had sold everything they had prepared and several townsfolk and local businesses were enquiring where they could buy the ovens as they were convinced not only be the delicious taste but also by the amount of fuel and money they could save, enabling them to recover their investment.


This opportunity to meet the high demand for ovens is being taken up by Christian Aid, WDR and  our local partner Inti Illimani. 

We appreciate the support so much of WDR. If it hadn’t been for your funds that first enabled us to explore renewable energies in the Amazon we would not be getting these great results now. Thank you for believing in us and for continuing with us along this journey.




Kopila Nepal: Empowering Women in Rural Communities

Mrs. Bina Silwal is the Executive Director of Kopila-Nepal, a WDR partner for over 10 years.

Here Bina shares about the work of Kopila and the impact it is having on the local community.


In Nepalese context, the situation of women is very difficult and it is even worse in rural part of the country. Women are far behind their male counterpart. A recent study on Women’s Status and Violence against Young Married Women in Rural Nepal highlighted several facts about women living in rural Nepal.

  • Only 39.13 % women are literate in Nepal. Of them:
    • 38.16% are literate up to primary level
    • 26.92% literate to secondary level
    • 18.44%. are literate to higher secondary level
  • 19.35% women are involved in employment (service/small business)
  • 35% of women are engaged in household work  
  • The majority group of women (47.72%) are engage in agriculture/daily wages/poultry farming[1].

Kopila-Nepal has been working on the issues of women, children and persons with Psychosocial problems since 2003 in western Nepal. Kopila Nepal (KN) have been working in partnership with Irish Methodist World Development & Relief (WDR) from 2006 and have focused on the issues of destitute women and their children in the  Kaski District of western Nepal.

When the project started, Kopila-Nepal carried out a small survey with 500 women to get information about the needs of destitute women & their children. We found the following:

  • 80% Women (especially, widows, single women, women with disabilities or having a husband with a disability) were stigmatised or neglected by the family & community
  • 60% did not have citizenship card, marriage registration or birth registration of their children
  • 45% women were not able to feed their children and send them to school
  • None of them had any properties in their name
  • They were not aware of their rights and did not have any information about government laws and policies in favor of women or how toaccess those services
  • People with mental illness were tied-up like animals inside the home
  •  In schools, the drop-out rate of female students was almost 60%
  • School children and teachers reported that corporal punishment in the school was common and accepted as the way to discipline the students     

I (Bina) grew up in an environment where gender based discrimination was common and accepted. It was a big challenge to overcome the barrier personally, but I wanted to become a successful role model as I knew this was essential to change the attitude of the general community.

Family members, particularly my mother and my husband Mr. Prakash Raj Wagle, always encouraged me to take initiatives to challenge gender-based discrimination. I was the eye-witness of many gender-based violence attacks and the discrimination which exists in Nepali society. I also saw an opportunity for me to work with destitute women and see a positive change in the life of those who were deprived of their rights. But as most of the targeted women had lost their hope, it was not easy to make them aware of their human rights. It was essential for them to gather together, to unite and advocate together and to have courage to break the barriers.

In order to demonstrate that women from the local community can bring about change in their community, a core strategy of KN was to recruit local women as project staff, to train them on gender and gender-based discrimination and to facilitate community psychosocial awareness. We also found it was helpful to bring the women in one place and talk about the issues affecting their development.

Self Help Groups (SHG) were established to provide training related to the key issues, to provide support and skill development, to encourage leadership and livelihood development. SHGs empower women and to prepare them to speak up for their and their children’s rights.

Community level interaction (teachers, parents, student, political leaders, social workers and traditional healers) was helpful as it highlighted the need of positive change in their community and nurtured a supportive environment for the women and children who are in need.

The work with destitute women and their children has made significant changes in the life of women and children. Most importantly, people are now respecting the rights of these women and support those who are in most need. Moreover, the community attitude towards destitute women and children and people with mental illness has been significantly changed. All the women involved in the SHGs have their marriage certificate, citizenship card and their children’s birth registration certificates.

23 Women from SHGs are represented in various decision making committees in the community, such as school management committees, health post management committees, forest user groups, drinking water user groups etc.    They are often invited to various social activities and their voices are heard. 105 women are actively involved in income generation activities and able to feed their children and send them to school. 8 women  are involved in local level government (for example jobs in schools, the agriculture office and health centre). The Saving Credit program livelihood support group, helps the women to manage their day-to-day finances for things like food, clothes, medicine, school uniforms for their children.

Harassment for female students in the school has decreased significantly. Now the girls, including dalit children, feel proud to go to school and the environment is friendlier to them. All the children of SHG members are in the school and 40 who were not regularly in the school, have already ompleted their school level education and are studying for their higher level education.

The Head Master of Maharudra Secondary School Sildujuree, Ganga Dhar Baral says

 “I am very impressed with the work being done by Kopila-Nepal for community transformation. Though I am Head Master of this school, I did not know about “Child Friendly Environments” before Kopila started to work in our community. Now I realized that I myself was harassing the girls and punished my pupils many times, but now my staff and I do not make this mistake. It is because of the training and interaction program organized by Kopila-Nepal”

Village Development Secretary of Saimaran Village Development Committee VDC of kaski District Yubraj Timilshana says,

I realize the importance of the work of Kopila Nepal on the issues which are not taken seriously by the state. I never thought that those destitute women can be empowered and lead the development process. While Kopila staff came to my village and started to talk about the rights of destitute women and request me to support them for their movement, I thought that they are just wasting their time and resources.  Now it is proved, the women who even did not visited the VDC office are leading the SHG and advocating about the rights of women and children. I as a responsible person of the local government I would like to appreciate the work doing by Kopila-Nepal and thank to their supporters.”

Nisha Pariyar (Dalit Girl) is studying in Sitaram Secondary School Secretary of Sagarmatha Child Club (supported by Kopila-Nepal) added that, she was abused and harassed by the teacher and male students and there was caste-based discrimination even in the school. She was not able to speak against it. But now she is leading the child club and there is no gender and caste based discrimination in the school.  Child Club are organizing various awareness activities in the community and the girls feel free to go to the school.

One example of the change in the quality of life and in the capacity of women, is the development of Kopila Independent Development Society (KIDS) out of the SHGs. The women  who were confined to their homes are now ready to help other women who are in difficulties. KIDS consists of the members from all SHGs and they have register their own organization in district administration office.  They have their own office building that was constructed with the financial support from Kopila-Nepal and local government provided land. KIDS have their cooperative and are committed to regular saving and credit program for the betterment of their group member.

In conclusion, it was not easy to bring those women in one place and break the socio-cultural barriers. The staff of KN had to face challenges and many times they were threatened by the people who did not want to see the women empowered. 

The chairperson of KIDS, Narayeni Poudel  says,

“When Kopila staff come to my home and talked about the problems village women are facing,  and encouraged me to join SHG , I was silent. Kopila’s social mobilizer visited frequently and encouraged me to be the part of the group. Now because of Kopila-Nepal I am not only speaking about my problems but have become a leader for the women from 6 VDCs and am speaking for their rights too.”

Bina Silwal

Executive Director, Kopila-Nepal

[1] Womens Status and Violence against Young Married Women in Rural Nepal

Lamichhane et al. BMC Women??s Health 2011, 11:19