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Burdens of Women Collecting Firewood in Africa

Burdens of Women Collecting Firewood in Africa




Collecting Firewood in Africa
Throughout Africa, women and girls walk for hours a day in the hope of finding a few branches or roots to use as firewood; to avoid the midday sun, many leave their homes before sunrise.

Burdens of Women Collecting Firewood in Africa


Explore and Understand Africa Through Her Food and Culture




Dangers of women collecting firewood in Africa range from spinal and pelvic injuries to sexual assault, rape, and harassment.


Almost all African countries still rely on wood to meet basic energy needs, in fact over 80% of the energy supply in African countries comes from wood. In these countries, woodfuels not only are vital to the nutrition of rural and urban households but are also often essential in food processing industries for baking, brewing, smoking, curing and electricity production.

Firewood collection by women in Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Firewood collection by women in Lukolela, Democratic Republic of Congo.



The World Health Organization states that “Over 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from the 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.” Fuelwood accounts for about 90% of the total wood consumption in Africa and 81% of African households use solid fuels while 70% depend on them as their primary energy source for cooking. Nearly 60% of urban dwellers also use woody biomass as an energy source for cooking.

Woman carrying firewood in Segou South-Central Mali.
Woman carrying firewood in Segou South-Central Mali.

Lack of safe access to firewood can be life-threatening particularly in conflict situations. The hours searching for wood also prevents better use of the time, such as attending school. Energy is both an engine of development and a source of many of today’s economic and environmental problems.

Firewood Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa bundles of eucalyptus branches used as firewood
Firewood Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa bundles of eucalyptus branches used as firewood


Women seek firewood often in arid areas already lacking adequate vegetation not only face the threat of rape but compete with other people who also need the resource. Approximately 60% of the world’s total wood removals from forests and trees outside forests are used for energy purposes. In other words, woodfuel is one of the main products of forests and trees.

Collecting firewood in Jinka, Southern Ethiopia
Collecting firewood in Jinka, Southern Ethiopia


Woodfuel is not only used in poor and rural households. In many towns and metropolitan areas, woodfuel is widely used either as a main, substitute or supplementary fuel by low-, middle- and high-income groups. In Africa, fuelwood, charcoal and other forms of biomass energy make a major contribution to meeting the energy requirements of the population. The collection, distribution, and trade of these fuels also provide income and employment to millions of Africans but also house unsafe working conditions for many young girls and women.

Elderly woman bringing firewood to the village of Masako, Kinsagani, Democratic Republic of Congo.
An elderly woman bringing firewood to the village of Masako, Kinsagani, Democratic Republic of Congo.


Lack of safe access to firewood can be life-threatening. Many women spend more than 20 hours a week collecting firewood. Contrary to common belief, not all-wood fuel is sourced from natural forests. Wood fuel production takes place within several types of land use, such as tree fallow and shrub fallow, woodlots, tree plantation sites, reforestation sites, fruit trees, scattered trees, and bushland and shrubland areas.



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