According to WHO estimates, indoor air pollution is the biggest killer in India after high blood pressure, accounting for about 5 lakh premature deaths every year. Using traditional stoves in rooms with little or no ventilation, can have serious consequences for those exposed, especially women who are cooking and young children who spend time around their mothers. Cooking on an open fire in the kitchen has been compared to burning 400 cigarettes in an hour. Several studies have documented the risk of pneumonia and adverse birth outcomes in children, and the risk of cataracts, tuberculosis, heart disease and chronic lung disease in women. Additional ly, several studies have also shown the health impact on women, of collecting and carrying heavy loads offuelfor long distances. Thus 3 crore households completely switching to LPG will have a massive impact on the health and well being of women. Unfortunately though, the adverse health impact of using traditional biomass cook stoves is largely unrecognized, especially by the women themselves. Socialized to put their families' needs above their own well being,the health impact of switching to a clean fuel such as LPG is not as apparentto women. There is a need to reiterate this message and usher in an understanding of the way in which smoke from chulhas acts as a slow poison and affects the health ofthe entire family.
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The burden of gathering, processing and transporting of fuel wood generally falls on women and girl children, contributing to their drudgery. Since cooking continues to be primarily women's responsibility, women have to compromise their time spent on housework, paid work, and leisure in order to meet the energy needs of the household. In case of young girls, this translates into poor attendance and even dropping out of school. With LPG usage, there is substantial reduction in the time spent on cooking and allied activities, which when put to some productive and economic use, can lead to women achieving a better economic status both within the household and the larger community. in fact a general analysis of the lives of women around us, who have been able to engage in productive activities beyond the four walls of their houses will tell us how much of this was contingent upon convenience of cooking. However, this transition from drudgery to economic opportunity does not happen automatically. Opportunities have either to exist or to be created in order for the economic benefit of LPG usage to become apparent. Also, women are likely to be differently placed in making the most of the opportunities that have opened up post LPG.The circumstances surrounding them are also likely to be different. Community to community sharing of experiences is a long tried and tested tool for effective extension and motivation.
Right from the inception of the Ujjwala program, emphasis has been laid on safe use of LPG. The envisioned benefits of LPG can only be realized if there is safe and responsible usage. At the time of issue of connection, each customer is given a safety card outlining the Dos and Don'ts of using LPG. A trained mechanic does the installation of LPG cylinder and also gives the customer a demo of how to use LPG safely. Furthermore, all LPG distributors are mandated to conduct 'safety clinics' in their respective areas of operation, especially for new LPG customers. Consumers are also given a helpline number where they can call in case of a leakage or any other LPG related emergency. Several myths may also be prevalent, especially in the rural areas, around LPG usage which need to be addressed in order for women to make a complete shift to LPG. LPG Panchayats will reiterate this message of safe and responsible LPG usage, providing new users Hand holding support in their journey towards clean energy. For the older users, this will be a chance to refresh their knowledge of LPG and check any negative behaviors which might have crept in through the years.
The soot and smoke produced by biomass cooking is damaging to the home environment. Biomass use also contributes to deforestation and overall degradation of the local environment. However, while making a choice between biomass and LPG, people often consider the former cheap (if not free), a perception that acts as a deterrent in switching to LPG. The effort and time spent collecting biomass has been increasing due to the shortages caused by localized deforestation. This recognition can be noticed even at village level where people, mostly women, are beginning to talk about the increased time spent or increased distance covered to fetch biomass. Conflicts are also beginning to arise due to biomass becoming scarce. Again, like health, the adverse environmental impact of biomass cooking is deferred and hence hard to understand. It is important therefore to raise this issue in context of switching to a clean fuel such as LPG usage.
Ujjwala was launched on 1st May, 2016 with the aim of providing women what is their right: -
1. Right to clean energy.
2. Right to a life free from drudgery.
3. Free from smoke and ill health.
Since then Ujjwala has slowly and steadily been changing the lives of millions of women across the nation. This change looks different in the life of every woman. For some this means not having to walk in the scorching heat to collect firewood, for others it may mean spending more time with their children. A young girl may not have to miss school anymore while her mother is already able to take up more tailoring jobs, thanks to the extra time she has because of cooking on LPG. While one becomes more regular in attending her Self Help Group (SHG) meetings, another might already be thinking of starting her own small business. Each of these experiences is unique and needs to be acknowledged and valued as such. LPG Panchayat will serve as a platform to do this. Switching to LPG gives women the opportunity to choose how to best use their time, a chance that may allow them to better take advantage of development opportunities and empower themselves. Access to and adoption of LPG can facilitate a shift in gender roles and responsibilities within the household provided that women access opportunities to enhance their income. Again women who are using LPG regularly would have experienced most of the expected benefits. There is a need, therefore, to discuss and explore the possibilities that have opened up for these new LPG users and also the ways they can access these opportunities. LPG Panchayats will also be used as a forum to re inform the new LPG users about some of the ongoing schemes such as MUDRA, STAND UP lndia, Sukanya Samridhi Yojna.