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Problematizing the Rape-Stove Nexus
July 16, 2014 9:42 AM   Subscribe

What may help lower the incidence of rape in Darfur? Stoves. "Collecting firewood for cooking puts women in Sudan's conflict-plagued and impoverished Darfur region at risk of rape. But a simple stove that replaces traditional open fires has cut the time they spend on potentially dangerous missions looking for wood, while also helping the environment and boosting their finances, the United Nations World Food Programme says." However, scholar Samer Abdelnour criticizes "the role advocacy can play in transforming far-away crises into “manageable problems” that can be solved through simple technical solutions. A telling example is the portrayal of efficient cookstoves as a tool for preventing rape and other forms of gender-based violence, first in Darfur and now globally."

Comments on Abdelnour and Saeed's argument by Charli Carpenter: " It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions."


More coverage: Stove Solutions: Improving Health, Safety, and the Environment in Darfur with Fuel-Efficient Cookstoves

The stove was designed by Berkeley Engineers.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
It may be a band-aid, but addressing the bigger issue of preventing conflict and adopting a global order based on social justice (to prevent, for example, refugee camps) is a long term problem that may not ever be solved.

If you think about it, the problems that plague humanity at this point and time are fundamentally transitory in nature. Just as the New York of the 60's and 70's was a violent place because of demographics, the same may be true of the world, with it's young, growing population today.

As societies grow more affluent (and it's an unstoppable trend globally thanks in large part to unlimited access to information), they experience a "demographic shift" that turns them into "older" and fundamentally less violent societies.

While the population explosion was supposed to create a Malthusian hunger crisis, it did not, but one thing that the demographers don't seem to talk about is that cataclysmic events like 9/11 or the Arab Spring are really caused by young populations with few opportunities.

Provide people with opportunities, and, over time, things like wars and refugee camps ought to disappear.

Of course, climate change is the wild card, but climate change is also the wild card in Abdelnour's argument, too. There are some things we in rich societies just cannot control in the short term.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:55 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Yeah, unless cooking fires are raping people over there, a stove is not really the solution to the problem. At best it moves the problem to wherever women go when they don't have to spend so much time in the woods gathering firewood.

A solution that means women can remain encapsulated in a locked house relatively safe from rapists isn't really much of a solution.
posted by Naberius at 9:56 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


Just as the New York of the 60's and 70's was a violent place because of demographics

Do you mean it was a violent place because of the 63% majority white population? Or are you trying to say something else?
posted by elizardbits at 9:59 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


while "stove solves rape" seems far fetched, reducing the time that women spend on domestic work does help women in general.
posted by nadawi at 10:00 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


The Abdelnour piece oversells its claims if you actually follow the links he provides. For one thing, most of the stove projects put claims about reducing vulnerability to sexual violence a long, long way down the list of reasons for adopting the stoves; environmental impacts are very strongly foregrounded. For another, it's not as clear-cut as he suggests that the stoves have no impact on vulnerability to rape. The 2007 Refugees International report which he characterizes as "withdrawing" the claim that the stoves prevent sexual violence actually just says that it's too hard to gather reliable data and that the claim ought not to be foregrounded when encouraging use of the stoves (advice which seems to have been taken to heart). The 2009 Amnesty International report which he characterizes as saying that women "are just as vulnerable to sexual violence inside camps as they are outside of them" actually says that "most cases of rape and violence against refugee women in eastern Chad take place outside the refugee camps, [but] there is a high level of violence against women and girls inside the camps as well."
posted by yoink at 10:02 AM on July 16 [7 favorites]


I think it's interesting that here in the West, the intellectual class (rightly) bristles at the idea of telling women to avoid certain activities to keep from getting raped, while in developing countries, we will actually invent clever devices to keep women in their homes, to keep them from being raped.

It's almost as if there is a double standard: us white folks are expected to control ourselves, but brown-skinned folk are just rapey and need special technology to keep from raping each other.
posted by Avenger at 10:09 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I think the Abdelnour piece works better if read as as 'this is what's wrong with the assumptions/beliefs of international humanitarian/advocacy network, and how those beliefs harm their efforts" than "this is what's wrong with this particular tactic and why it is a net bad thing".
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:15 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


more efficient stoves that use less time to create a meal aren't "clever devices to keep women in their homes" any more than washing machines or refrigerators, which were shown to be one of the catalysts for broadening women's rights in places like the usa.
posted by nadawi at 10:17 AM on July 16 [10 favorites]


Just as the New York of the 60's and 70's was a violent place because of demographics

Could you clarify what you're referring to here? It's probably my reading comprehension but I am unable to tell.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:19 AM on July 16


[Dial it back, folks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:22 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Just as the New York of the 60's and 70's was a violent place because of demographics

I can't link from here but I was just reading an Atlantic piece that rebutted this.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:23 AM on July 16


There is no question that New York's crime rate has fallen, and a lot of it is tied to the fact that it's an older population now

There are a number of factors, both demographic and not, that help explain reduction in crime, which has been consistent across the US. Much of that argument can be linked more to external factors (among them, drug types and reduction of lead in the environment) than just age.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:23 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Crime is certainly linked to age demographics, and the population is generally older today than it was 40 years ago, but I don't know if NYC had especially distinct age demographics at the time.
posted by leopard at 10:24 AM on July 16


"stove solves rape" seems far fetched

No is saying that stoves are going to "solve rape." The FPP says stoves "may help lower the incidence of rape in Darfur." It sounds like a plausible point; I don't see why you have to caricature it.
posted by John Cohen at 10:25 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Just as the New York of the 60's and 70's was a violent place because of demographics..
Could you clarify what you're referring to here? It's probably my reading comprehension but I am unable to tell.
The rest of his sentence, which two respondents have now truncated, refers specifically to age as a factor he is interested in. I think it is incumbent on anyone trying to impute otherwise to demonstrate that that's not what he meant if they believe he is referring to another demographic factor.

I don't know whether his underlying statistics are correct, but I don't think there is any evidence that this is dog-whistle territory. So can we please go back to discussing the Sudan?
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:27 AM on July 16 [18 favorites]


It sounds like a plausible point; I don't see why you have to caricature it.

did you miss the part where i'm complimentary of the stove and how i think it will help? i think this is a good thing. i think framing this around rape muddies the waters of the actual good it can do.
posted by nadawi at 10:29 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I think it is incumbent on anyone trying to impute otherwise to demonstrate that that's not what he meant if they believe he is referring to another demographic factor.

That is what I was asking, because the sentence as read is unclear as to whether it refers to age or not in the instance of NYC. Obviously age is what is referred to for his larger point re: the globe. I did not say anything about dogs.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 AM on July 16


KokoRyu already helpfully clarified that he was referring to the demographic age distribution in New York. For some mystifying reason the mods removed his clarifying comment. Perhaps the mods could leave this comment to stand as, hopefully, an end to that derail, or amend the "dial it back a bit" comment to include a statement that KokoRyu did, in fact, make that clarification.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I think it is incumbent on anyone trying to impute otherwise to demonstrate that that's not what he meant if they believe he is referring to another demographic factor.

He replied to clarify that he was talking specifically about age demographics but that comment was deleted.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:40 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


MeTa
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:50 AM on July 16


A solution that means women can remain encapsulated in a locked house relatively safe from rapists isn't really much of a solution.

This is the most mind-bogglingly enormous example of the perfect being the enemy of the good that I've ever seen.

The kind of societal shift y'all are talking about is going to take a crapton of time - time during which women who have no stoves will continue to have to go out and get firewood in the dark, and get jumped by strangers. Yes, some women may face dangers in their own homes - but some don't, and you're condemning them to suffer as well.

What else do you view in this way? "I'm sorry, we don't have a vaccine for HIV yet, so a solution that means that men have to wrap their dicks in plastic isn't a solution at all"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on July 16 [17 favorites]


I think this is a really interesting article but I agree with EmpressCallipygos about it being an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

I also think its important in situations like this to be clear about context - if the stoves were meant only to prevent rape i think they would be a lot more problematic in that it would be a more of an attempt to solve the rape problem by control women's behavior at the expense of perhaps more effective solutions, but as the stoves have other positive values I think the article is somewhat harsh and under developed. The stoves mean women can spend time doing things other than collecting wood and they have a positive value on the environment which are both net goods. Also, in a crisis situation I think its healthy to realize that only long term social and economic change is going to fix the problem of rape, and of course the other social ills that exist in such a crisis situation, and I think its ok and probably necessary to attack problems on many prongs and giving people stoves seems to be a net good for them even if it clearly isn't going to eliminate rape or other sexual violence.

The Carpenter article calls the stoves a "technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem" and claims they're doing more harm than good but there is no indication that they are, unless maybe more effective solutions are being abandoned in lieu of stoves, but in my reading of the articles I don't see any evidence given of that. Clearly there is a limited amount of aid that can be given and solutions that are only bandaids need to be balanced against long term thinking but IMO, rather uninformed opinion, the first article is making a theoretical argument which is worth thinking about but maybe needs to be backed up with more facts.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 11:23 AM on July 16 [8 favorites]


I don't know if anyone else is in the mood for an academic deep read, but I really found The Security Demographic interesting and relevant here. Basically, the premise is that there's a pattern the world over of medical/hygienic advances extending lifespans (for the most part, reducing death in childhood) as countries develop economically, followed by a reduction in birthrates due to women's access to education & contraception; the problem is that in the transitional phase, there's a big swell of young people who often don't have access to jobs and can more easily get swept into conflict.
posted by psoas at 11:58 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


This reminded me of:
  • humans' heartbreaking, desperate, and oft-misguided desire to Do Something, Anything! to assuage even a sliver of the suffering experienced by people whose lives and livelihoods have been routinely and repeatedly leveled by various permutations of inconceivable violence. I can definitely imagine some well-meaning staffer at an NGO or other relief organization seizing on the firewood --> stove --> omg let's give them stoves! idea. And, I can definitely imagine them brandishing it as an example of something approachable, something possible, something that they could build a campaign around, Something they -- we! could Do, all while remaining woefully unattuned to the inadequacy of their approach in the field
  • the natural cluelessness embodied by people who have no idea what it is like to live under the constant threat of violence, and who are moved to offer head-scratchingly simple "solutions" to said violence nonetheless
  • this recent Ask: What are some examples of humanitarian acts gone awry?
  • the fact that impoverished women are exceedingly vulnerable to rape, assault, and harassment at all times, even when they are just trying to engage in irreducibly basic human biological functions (cite, h/t)
    Sexual harassment is rampant when girls go out in the open for defecation. Men disguise themselves as women and hide themselves in the fields...There have been instances when girls were abducted from the fields and men were caught for sexually harassing them. After 11pm, girls are usually forbidden from going to the fields unless they are accompanied by an elder.
Finally, this is an interesting read from the Charli Carpenter link above: Agenda-Setting in Transnational Networks: Findings from Consultations with Human Security Practitioners [PDF]. In part, it asks, "Why do some issues and/or populations of concern galvanize the attention of transnational advocacy networks more than others?"
posted by divined by radio at 12:03 PM on July 16


A solution that means women can remain encapsulated in a locked house relatively safe from rapists isn't really much of a solution.

I took it to mean "A solution that allows women not to be wandering the woods alone as often."
posted by wenestvedt at 12:14 PM on July 16


And, I can definitely imagine them brandishing it as an example of something approachable, something possible, something that they could build a campaign around, Something they -- we! could Do, all while remaining woefully unattuned to the inadequacy of their approach in the field

That's not what happened in this case, though:

"To design a product that Darfuri women would use, Gadgil sat on the floors of Darfuri kitchens and asked women for cooking lessons. Then he figured out what some of the best engineering talent in the world could do to help...

...Now in its fourteenth iteration, the stove began with a fuel-efficient model manufactured in India. It was redesigned and tested at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and modified again and again with feedback from Darfuri women."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:14 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]


I think it's interesting that here in the West, the intellectual class (rightly) bristles at the idea of telling women to avoid certain activities to keep from getting raped, while in developing countries, we will actually invent clever devices to keep women in their homes, to keep them from being raped.

Who's "we" here? There's a pretty stark difference between the intellectuals who believe in technocratic solutions such as these stoves and the intellectuals interested in social change who think that "she was asking for it" is horrifying.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:26 PM on July 16


That's not what happened in this case, though...

Is their approach all that adequate when it comes to its explicit stated purpose of lowering instances of rape and sexual assault? The sentence in the 'Berkeley engineers' link that lists the benefits of the stove begins, "The cookstove curbed assaults..." but there doesn't appear to be any evidence to support that particular claim. It sounds very appealing on its face, but there isn't much (if any) support for the idea that the introduction of cookstoves will result in reduced assault rates. Refugees International [PDF]: "...there is little evidence that producing fuel-efficient stoves reduces violence against women."

It just doesn't sit right with me that they'd feel the need to specifically state that the implementation of cookstoves "curbed assault" in Darfur without offering any supporting facts or figures. The lack of evidence for their claim makes it feel like another instance of women's bodies being used as a political tool, with their violation pointedly invoked to attract donor and media attention.

They could have dropped the rape angle altogether in order to focus on the stove's actual, verifiable benefits to economy, health, and environment alike. The same Refugees International report continues:
...the best fuel-efficient stoves did produce other benefits for women including:

• Improving the quality of life for Darfuri women and their families by reducing expenditures for fuel and freeing up time for income generation and other activities;
• Reducing the amount of smoke that is emitted during the cooking process and, thereby, the incidence of acute respiratory infections and other smoke-related diseases, which is one of the leading causes of morbidity throughout Darfur;
• Reducing the risk of injury to children, who can burn themselves when they fall into the open fire and, likewise, decreasing the risk of fire to nearby structures, a particularly serious concern in congested camps;
• Potentially slowing the desertification in the Darfur area.

Given the quality of living benefits that fuel efficient stove programs may bring in relation to their cost, the international community should continue to promote them but not solely — or even principally — as a protection measure against sexual violence but as a vital part of a holistic response to the urgent environmental and humanitarian issues confronting the conflict-affected peoples of Darfur.
I dunno. With benefits like those, why bring the specter of rape and sexual assault into the discussion at all?
posted by divined by radio at 12:47 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]


I think you're missing a very fine distinction that I initially missed and realized when I was making the FPP and reading the articles (the Abdelnour article in International Political Sociology is paywalled but if anyone wants it I can Blasdelb it to them). There's the actual Berkeley engineers who sat down with these women and talked to them and figured out what they needed. Then there is the international advocacy network, which includes RI. I think its important to draw a distinction between these two groups, because the people who made and designed the stoves did so with the explicit goal of making the world a little better. Their website lists the many benefits of stoves, only one of which is protecting women from 'violence' that is not necessarily sexual.

Then, there is the international advocacy network which seized on what these engineers were doing and spun it all up in the sexual violence angle, which smells like 'white men saving black women from black men' to it.

Of course I could be missing this and the second group is what you are referring too. But I think making these distinctions are important also because the critic by Abdelnour does not seem to be criticizing the engineers, but rather the advocacy networks.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:06 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


Do you mean it was a violent place because of the 63% majority white population? Or are you trying to say something else?

I was talking about age. You are talking about race.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:08 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]


10-4, MP -- I've actually only been talking about the inadequacy of the NGOs' approach, not the engineers at all. I tried to draw my line in the sand around "some well-meaning staffer at an NGO or other relief organization," but I could have been clearer.

It's just maddening to me that advocacy networks seem to have seized on a perfectly serviceable existing idea -- because it's fairly easy to implement and distribute, which probably helps bolster its use as a rallying cry? -- that was already providing a ton of verifiable benefits and then twisted its purpose to fit a storyline that they (rightly or wrongly) believe will raise more funds. Makes me feel all kinds of hinky.
posted by divined by radio at 1:18 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


ah ok yes! gotcha now.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:24 PM on July 16


I think it's interesting that here in the West, the intellectual class (rightly) bristles at the idea of telling women to avoid certain activities to keep from getting raped, while in developing countries, we will actually invent clever devices to keep women in their homes, to keep them from being raped.

Feminist groups in the West have always pushed for campus late-night-ride-home services and other interventions that aren't always considered by those who feel safe walking around alone at night. It's the people who ask "what was she doing out there by herself?" who generally find these measures frivolous and unnecessary.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:29 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]




I don't really recall what I learned in college that I want to reference here. But it boils down to something like: There are four things you can do to improve quality of life for women and doing those things for women has significant knock-off effects which improve society as a whole.

I want to say three of those things were education, rights and employment. But I can't recall the fourth.

Here is an article with some statistics in line with my only half-recalled information: Empowering Women, Developing Society: Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa
•As female education rises, fertility, population growth, and infant and child mortality fall and family health improves.
•Increases in girls' secondary school enrollment are associated with increases in women's participation in the labor force and their contributions to household and national income.
•Women's increased earning capacity, in turn, has a positive effect on child nutrition.8
•Children — especially daughters — of educated mothers are more likely to be enrolled in school and to have higher levels of educational attainment.
•Educated women are more politically active and better informed about their legal rights and how to exercise them.
The toilet issue (mentioned by infini) is something I mentioned recently in a different FPP.

I am all for doing anything, whether stoves or toilets, which empower women, educate women, or employ women. Doing those things brings down birth rates and infant mortality rates and has a whole host of other consequences.

I don't think women are the weaker sex. I think they are the weak link in that the burden of childbearing and childrearing significantly (and often very negatively) impacts their life. They end up being victimized by society as a whole in order to try to keep the species alive -- because you can repopulate after war with say ten times as many women as men but not the other way around. Shoring up that weak link, however it is done, even if you think it is "just a band aid" on the problem, makes a difference. That difference can be far more profound than the program directors realize.
posted by Michele in California at 3:53 PM on July 16


If women in Darfur say stoves make them safer I'm not going to argue with that. I'm going to donate to the stove charity.

The people who need resources are usually a really good source of information on what they need.
posted by fshgrl at 4:20 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]


I'm glad this turned out to have nothing to do with Patton Oswalt.
posted by edheil at 6:53 PM on July 16


Having visited LBL and seen the displays in the lobby, the folks at the lab are absolutely positioning the "Darfur stove" as being good because it both cuts down on pollution and reduces the time women need to spend collecting fuel (time which can then be spent doing other things). As I recall, "reduces rape" was barely touched upon in the display material, if it was mentioned at all.
posted by Lexica at 6:16 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]


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