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    ‘Women’ and water inequality: why we need to look deeper into ‘gender’ to overcome water inequality

    By Rosa M Sulley, on 27 July 2017

    “This post was originally published on the London International Development Centre (LIDC) blog here, written by DPU student Rosa Sulley during her communications internship at LIDC”.

     

    The global water crisis is happening right now. WaterAid states that “a lack of safe water, proper toilets and good hygiene affects women and girls most” making water poverty undoubtedly a gender issue. However, if we are going to properly understand and account for all experiences of water poverty, we need to change the way we think about gender, women, and water.

    The global water crisis is happening right now. WaterAid states that “a lack of safe water, proper toilets and good hygiene affects women and girls most” making water poverty undoubtedly a gender issue. However, if we are going to properly understand and account for all experiences of water poverty, we need to change the way we think about gender, women, and water.

    Gender and Development Approaches to Water Poverty

    The gendered nature of water poverty was brought to the world’s attention by feminist critiques of gender inequality in development and access to natural resources. Through research, academia, and activism on gender inequality, the burden on women and girls of collecting water and carrying out domestic water tasks has become well-known, contributing to the continued promotion of ‘Gender and Development’ (GAD) approaches in international policy.

    Borne out of critiques of ‘Women in Development’ (WID), which was the first attempt to integrate women into the international development agenda, GAD emerged in the late 1980s and has gained significant attention in academic research, development practice, and policy at all scales. It brought a new focus on the socially constructed differences between men and women to global development policy and discourse, and encouraged an analysis of gender roles and gender relations. In relation to water, GAD approaches therefore privileged investigation into how gender roles and relations influence uneven access to and control over water resources. Much of the work in the water sector is informed by this approach, meaning water programmes and initiatives, especially in the Global South, have increasingly had a gender focus.

    However, there are many feminist authors who challenge the practical application of GAD approaches. Although GAD intended to move away from a focus just on women, in practice, ‘gender’ is still commonly synonymised with ‘women’ in policy and practice. As a result, gender approaches and gender mainstreaming in water programmes often slip back into single perspectives. Within gender mainstreaming, this focus on women also often results in the homogenisation of ‘women’ as a single category, suggesting that all who fall under that category experience water inequality in the same way.

    I want to stress here that in writing this article I am no way trying to reduce or overlook the evident gender inequality and water struggles which many women and girls experience in their daily lives around the world. Rather, highlight the problems with the current way gender is commonly conceptualised in water projects; where generalised statements like ‘poor women are more impacted’ are common. Such statements perpetuate global narratives of a homogenous, vulnerable Global South woman suffering from water poverty, and render differing experiences of water inequality invisible. For example, images of water poverty are often of non-white women struggling to carry and collect water, as shown below.

    women carrying water

    However, it would be far too simplistic to say that these two women experience water inequality in the same way just because they are both women. What about other factors such as their age, where they live, their class? And how do all of these interconnect through different social relations? Nonetheless, inaccurate assumptions that all women suffer equally, and can therefore be empowered equally through targeted ‘gendered’ interventions, guide many water programmes.

    The dominance of such simplified narratives is having negative consequences. Wider social relations can undermine programmes directed at women, and there are a number of examples of water interventions which actually resulted in further marginalisation due to a limited understanding of these other social factors and relations.

    The Importance of Other Social Relations

    The notion that gender constitutes something far more complex than simply ‘male’ or ‘female’ has gained significant ground in academic work. A feminist theory known as intersectionality has been at the forefront of such thinking, arguing that gender always intersects with other social identities and relations, including race, caste, class, age, ethnicity, sexuality, for example. Intersectionality suggests that it is all of these different identities and relations and how they come together in different ways which is important for determining how someone experiences (water) inequality and poverty. 

    Allen and Hofmann explain this clearly in their recent book chapter on urban water and sanitation poverty in Lima and Dar es Salaam. They use intersectional analysis to show how women and men go through dynamic trajectories in and out of water poverty due to factors such as whether they are renters or landowners and relations with other people in the community. For example, they follow the life of one entrepreneurial woman who lives in her family house and sells drinking water in reused plastic bottles that she fills with water from the pushcart vendors. She is able to sell water because she is well known in the community, giving her extra income to secure access to water for herself. Whereas another woman, also with her own business, is constrained by her position as a renter. Her landlord keeps raising rents and, despite her business, she struggles to find the money to meet the basic water needs of her family.

    Understanding water poverty in this way and further exploring how water inequality is differentially experienced is extremely important. It not only sheds light on how micro-politics shape differing levels of empowerment and disempowerment, but also links such dynamics to broader structural issues through multi-scalar investigation. This helps to explain at multiple levels why and how some women can escape water poverty water whilst others cannot. Too much of a practical focus on ‘women’ as a homogenised, fixed, singular category clearly hides other significant factors through which water poverty is embedded and comes to be produced and experienced.

    Therefore, this could, and should, have meaningful implications for policy and water practices for better targeted interventions. Although intersectionality is a well-known theory, currently there is little literature and even less policy focus on intersectional water poverty, or even in relation to socio-ecological inequality in the Global South more widely. The hope is that with the gradual increase in academic publications which attend to complex ideas of gender and social difference in relation to water, there will be a shift towards those who experience multi-layered water inequalities right now. We have begun to change the way we think about gender, women, and water, but now we need to question how we approach and overcome water inequalities in practice.  


    References

    UNICEF/WHO (2015) https://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMP-Update-repor…

    Photo credit for the image of two women carrying water: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adjourned/3069327644 


    Rosa is an LIDC intern and a Master’s student of Environment and Sustainable Development at the Development Planning Unit, UCL. She is interested in water poverty and policy, gender, and development in urban contexts.

    The field research – Learnings beyond the research itself

    By Florie J Arlegui, on 7 July 2017

    While only lasting for a few weeks, the field research trip is an intense experience that provides in-depth learnings that go beyond the research outcomes themselves. One of the key highlights for me was how a good field research technique is about combining learnings from human interactions as well as using planning and organisational tools to reduce the uncertainty that surrounds field research.

    Part 1: Learnings from the people – Disillusionment in the periphery

    View from the community of Villa Lourdes Ecológico (VMT)

    View from the community of Villa Lourdes Ecológico (VMT)

     

    I’m standing here on the dark distant slopes of Villa Lourdes Ecológico, a settlement without water, sewerage or electricity access, looking down at the city of Lima that stretches as far as the eye can see. We have just had a focus group using headtorches with a group of mostly women, their kids playing at their feet. They came to meet us with hope, a hope to be listened to. They feel forgotten and right here, in this dark spot, I can relate to this disillusionment.

    Since arriving in Lima, I have heard many heartfelt sentences from people who have lost hope and no longer believe in the transformative change we came here to seek. Vicente Chavez, a leader of the fog catcher initiative from this community, wants to move back to Cusco instead of “waiting here, hoping for the water to come from the sky”.

    A few days before, at a march on water access, I came across the slogan “stop fighting is to start dying”. Whilst extreme for effect, I do believe that when people feel disheartened about their situation, they stop engaging and driving change.

     

    Without pressure on decision makers, they may well be forgotten.

    I can already observe the direct negative impact of the lack of hope. With the fog catchers project, people lost hope in official support and decreased engagement to the point that they were not making use of a solution that was already available to them. Some community members did not even know that they were entitled to a piece of land to cultivate using water from the fog catchers.

    And yet, people’s support and buy-in are rarely mentioned in policy briefs as a key prerequisite to foster participation. It appears critical that our recommendations consider how to help restore people’s hope in the potential for transformative change in order to ultimately foster their participation and make them instrumental in their future.

    Two crucial factors to regain this confidence from the people: transparency and action. Communities explicitly asked for “no more lies” about their situation. They need to understand better the short to long term plans to organise and decide accordingly. Not knowing often means that they linger in the fear of taking action that could damage their current situation. They also need to “see proofs” that improvements are made whether in the form of electricity access or small-scale infrastructure work such as stairs. When projects reach their community, people feel heard and that change is possible thereby increasing their likeliness to engage.

    This gave me an additional purpose and some guidance for our research. As future planners, we have the duty not only to bring to light these forgotten realities but to also deliver recommendations that aim at overcoming people’s disillusionment when requiring their participation. In other words, the role of a socio-environmental planner is to make sure that no one is left out in the dark without hope.

     

    Part 2 – Learnings from the process – Networking, my ally for achieving holistic research

    As Lima was my first field research trip I was aware that data collection would be the most challenging phase of the research process. As a project manager, I am used to things being planned from A to Z before a project even starts. As a result, I was fearing data collection as I viewed it as uncertain and unpredictable. Thankfully, I discovered a great ally that changed my perspective and allowed us to bring structure to data collection: networking.

    I understand networking as interactions with a system of interrelated primary and secondary connections that hold different roles, views and power about a given topic. To have a holistic data gathering, it is important to network with a diverse range of actors of various opinions. However, not all stakeholders play the same role in data collection. In the field, when time is limited, it is vital to be flexible and to learn to also rely on secondary connections. While they may provide a smaller share of information, these connections can be more engaged and transparent. In our case, we met with an engineer working on the ecosanitation project from Sedapal who could be considered as a secondary connection given his operational clout in the project. His insights, provided anonymously, proved even deeper than information provided by the key project partner AguaEcosan.

    Having recognised the importance of networking, it became critical to integrate it in our research process as a key planning tool for data collection. Recognising that these connections may not always happen organically, it is important to have the methods in place to foster networking and adapt it constantly in the field. Clear research objectives and actor-mapping were critical to  framing our networking. By knowing the data we needed, the current gaps and the existing actors we could interact with, it became easier to prioritise connections and make the required substitutions when needed, understanding the implications for our research.

    The role of networking as a planning tool for data collection was critical in achieving our research objective to understand better the eschemas model, a publicly-driven city-wide framework from Sedapal to provide water and sanitation services to 100% of the population. Making a direct connection within Sedapal had not yielded any result so we mapped potential actors that could help us gather similar data and decided to network upwards from the communities. We leveraged our existing relationship with the NGO Peruanos sin Agua to connect with a leader from an eschema committee at a water protest march. While the march itself had little importance from a data collection perspective, the contact had the potential to be the missing link we needed to connect with Sedapal as the march was organised in collaboration with the worker union from Sedapal. This allowed us to achieve our initial research goal.

    First, these key learnings about the methods to network efficiently allowed me to overcome my fear of data collection by understanding that data collection can be planned and is not as uncertain as I saw it originally. Furthermore, recognising the existence of this system of interrelated primary and secondary connections enabled me to use networking as a key ally to engage with these connections and collect data in a holistic and efficient way. Ultimately, this ultimately has a positive impact on the quality of our research outcomes.

     

    Conclusion

    It is undeniable that pre-research plays a key role in research trips as it allows to gain deep knowledge about a given field of analysis and form initial hypotheses to verify during the research. However, once on the ground, the reality can challenge assumptions and reshape priorities… but after all, research is about ‘trusting the process’. While tools such as networking should be used to help reduce uncertainty, planners should remain flexible and embrace the research journey to gather findings that go much beyond pure research outcomes.


    Florie Arlegui is a product strategy lead studying for a MSc Environment & Sustainable Development as a part-time student (2015-2017) in order to pursue a career change. She is particularly passionate about sustainable mobility in cities.

    Towards an Autonomy of Housing – The Legacy of John F C Turner in Latin America and Beyond: Event Review

    By Monique K Rose, on 13 March 2017

     

    Reflections from the ‘Towards an Autonomy of Housing’ event that took place on the 22nd of February 2017 and was presented by the UCL Development Planning Unit (DPU) as part of the series DPU Dialogues in Development.

    turner1

     

    Industrialisation, a well-known driver for rural to urban migration, creates the increased demand for housing as a by-product of a swelling city. Emerging cities in developing nations, lacking the capacity to respond to a rapidly increasing urban population tend to become inundated with the enormous demand for housing, which poses a problem with no immediate solution. A housing deficit left unaddressed gives rise to the development of informal settlements by people perceived to be left with limited options. In an effort to find their own solutions, settlers “illegally” create unplanned neighbourhoods in areas not fit for development and deficient of infrastructure and services.

     

    In the case of Lima, rural migrants who rushed to the city for employment and enterprise found themselves in overcrowded and shabby ‘tugurios’. In the 1950’s, individuals frustrated with forking out huge portions of their income for high-cost rent in exchange for sub-standard living conditions formed community groups to plan major land invasions in the hills surrounding the centre of Lima. The strong networks formed by the invaders made it difficult for authorities to action any form of evictions against them. The invasions took place around the same time that John F. C. Turner, a British architect who had been closely examining housing policy and programs in Lima, wrote his first report in 1959. The government of Peru tried and successfully relocated some squatters to government land. However, the invaders of El Ermitaño stood their ground forcing authorities to develop strategies to take into account their needs through slum-upgrading, rather than to resist the young settlement. Turner, despite this, critiqued the implementation of these processes in his early career, finding them to be insubstantial in addressing the dwelling needs of the communities they were to service. The residents of El Ermitaño, with the help of Turner’s advocacy, were granted legal tenure and were able to avoid evictions and demand municipal services.

    turner2

    Dr. Katherin Golda-Pongratz, a German architect who followed Turner’s work closely while completing her PhD in Architecture in Peru, became interested in and is now referencing Turner’s contribution to El Ermitaño in her own work. She gave an anecdote about how the two have collaborated on the Spanish publication of the book Autoconstrucción which explores Turner’s 1948 writing. The book references Patrick Geddes’ pattern of relationships in the “notation of life” which has influenced much of Turner’s philosophy. The book will feature other articles written by John and translated in to Spanish including an entry for the magazine Architecture and Design that was the precursor to the film A Roof of My Own.

     

    Golda-Pongratz further explained how the research process of completing Autoconstrucción led to the resurfacing of the 30 minute documentary guest-edited by Turner in 1963 and released the following year by the United Nations Centre for Building and Planning. The version originally released to the public aired void of an integral address from then President Fernando Belaúnde.

     

    A Roof of My Own takes the viewer into the arena of the autonomy of housing in the 1960’s. It highlights the political, social and personal discourses of the time in the settlement of El Ermitaño in northern Lima and demonstrates how ordinary people were managers of their own house construction. The case of El Ermitaño underscores Turner’s concept that informal settlements are not to be viewed as a problem but an opportunity to provide solutions to the problem of housing.

     

    In his introduction of the video, Turner touched on the relevance of the film in today’s housing climate where young professionals worldwide find themselves not earning enough to save for a downpayment on a home. They are instead forced to stay at home with their parents or are caught in a vicious cycle of settling in expensive, sub-standard housing which consumes most of their income, hindering their capacity to save. He also stated that housing policies that aim to provide homes that the poor cannot access is not a suitable to rectify a housing deficit.

     

    turner3

    A Roof of My Own has inspired Golda-Pongratz to continue the legacy of Turner’s work by creating a sequel to the film. She hopes to show her continuation in the same community centre in El Ermitaño where the original film was screened by the invaders. El Ermitaño is now considered an ‘arrival city’ where Golda-Pongratz anticipates that the second chapter will provide a link to the new generation of residents. The narrative will explore the precarious living conditions of families living on the lomas, increasing the pressure and encroaching on the fragile landscapes. The trailer for the new film asked probing questions relating to the ‘limits to growth’, the role of land traffickers in urban expansion as well as the role of the residents in place-making and shaping the future of the El Ermitaño.

    You can view the lecture here:

    You can hear the lecture in the audio podcast here:


    Monique Rose is an Architect and Chevening scholar from Jamaica studying for a MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development. Her research interests are in housing and disaster risk management in the Global South. This year she has joined the UrbanArk Project team and will write her dissertation on the relationship between urban planning and disaster.

    Learning about urban risk

    By Adriana E Allen, on 11 August 2016

    Originally published by CDKN

    Different forms of rational and experiential knowledge underpin the way we learn about the city; the way we discern where is safe and unsafe, what is just and unjust, and what realities – as well as whose – coexist in its everyday life. As argued by Colin McFarlane in Learning the City, this knowledge of the city is not something that urbanites either possess or lack. Rather, it emerges from the process of making sense of the city, in which urban dwellers reproduce or contest data and information, as well as beliefs, discourses and practices. Furthermore, the learning process is not completely internal to individual women and men, but rather shaped and reshaped by multiple interactions with other people, places, stories, images and imaginations.

    This is the first of two interlinked articles that reflect on the insights on public learning gained through the action-research project cLIMA sin Riesgo. Focusing on Lima, the world’s second largest desert metropolis, the project explores the conditions that produce and reproduce vicious risk accumulation cycles, or ‘urban risk traps.’ It looks at how and where risk traps materialise, and with what consequences for women and men living in two contrasting areas: Barrios Altos, located in the historic city of Lima, and José Carlos Mariátegui, situated in the poorest and most densely populated district in the periphery of the city (Allen et al, 2015). In these areas, most local dwellers live in conditions of poverty, marginalisation and high vulnerability to everyday risks and small-scale episodic disasters. In 2015, both areas were among those declared under emergency due to the forecasted impacts of the warm phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The ENSO cycle – both El Niño and La Niña – causes global changes in temperatures and rainfall, which for local residents means worsening everyday risks and episodic disasters threatening human life and wellbeing, as well as man-made and ecological infrastructure.

    Figure 1: Living in risk in the centre and Figure 2 (below) Living in risk in the periphery of Lima

    Figure 1: Living in risk in the centre and Figure 2 (below) Living in risk in the periphery of Lima

    The project approaches ‘public learning’ as a means to reframe the way in which everyday risk is perceived, experienced and addressed, in order to promote concerted and strategic interventions to build just urban resilience. This piece reflects on how such learning can be deepened when those directly exposed to everyday risks participate in mapping and surveying their own neighbourhoods (Lambert and Poblet, 2016).

    Learning from the barrio: From research beneficiaries to knowledge producers

    Learning about urban risk is a complex process, requiring individuals to anticipate potential dangers before they occur. Furthermore, while many urbanites might be aware of the potential threats of large-scale events such as earthquakes, the risks underpinning the everyday lives of marginalised people often go unseen. Paradoxically, the experience of everyday risks is often invisible to those who are most exposed to them, and thus internalised as something that is part of life. This is the case for instance, when local dwellers believe that living without water and sanitation or negotiating their everyday life through the steep slopes is part of the price they have to pay to remain in the city. cLIMA sin Riesgo starts from the assumption that everyday risks need to be learnt spatially both by those who experience them and those who aim to address them. This requires the inclusion of the lived experiences, exposure and perceptions of those who are most vulnerable to them at the scale of the neighbourhood (‘barrio‘) and the household. Between July and November 2015, the team conducted a comprehensive participatory survey that covered 700 households – about a third of the total households found in 12 informal settlements in José Carlos Mariátegui and in the rented multi-family housing units (‘quintas’) of Barrios Altos.

    Local women and men joined a research team combing the neighbourhoods through the application of a geo-referenced questionnaire. Using accessible smartphone technologies such as Epicollect+[i], they gathered data on types of risks affecting dwellers in each area, what makes some households more vulnerable than others and how people respond to these conditions to cope, mitigate or prevent actual and potential impacts. The survey offered insight into the capacities of local dwellers to act individually, collectively and with external organisations. The process allowed those taking part in the survey – both as interviewers and interviewees – to make sense of common experiences but also different realities confronting people in the same area. Furthermore, zooming into the household and out into the wider scales’ of each area and the city revealed many of the processes and actions that produce and reproduce risk traps.

    Figure 2: Testimony from a woman participating in the survey in José Carlos Mariátegui: “We worry about the settlement, but we are not always aware of what happens behind our back… With the drones[ii] we were able to understand how land traffickers are operating in the area”

    Figure 2: Testimony from a woman participating in the survey in José Carlos Mariátegui: “We worry about the settlement, but we are not always aware of what happens behind our back… With the drones[ii] we were able to understand how land traffickers are operating in the area”

    In Barrios Altos, for instance, we recorded the quiet process by which many of the multi-family structures that are part of the cultural heritage of the city are being turned into warehouses that store heavy containers that often provoke the collapse of buildings. We also captured the process of quiet eviction in which pipes are intentionally broken to make dwelling impossible, thus forcing tenants out of the quintas and making it possible to demolish and redevelop the area for more lucrative and speculative purposes.

    In José Carlos Mariátegui, zooming from the level of the household and local community (‘Agrupación Familiar’) into the wider political geography of the settlements’ slopes revealed how urban risk traps are exacerbated by the actions of land traffickers who, through the illegal appropriation and sale of land, urbanise the upper areas of the slopes, resulting in frequent rockslides and landslides that affect those living below.

    It is said that ‘we live and learn’, but can we reframe our learning of the experiences of others, faraway from our own everyday lives? A follow up piece (coming soon) will reflect on this question and on how public learning might reveal the unseen, helping us to learn urban risk beyond our lived experiences and to be part of transformative change.

    To learn more about the project, or to expand the ongoing learning process to other cities, please register on the bilingual website of the project at www.climasinriesgonet and/or contact:

    Figure 3: Participatory mapping process in the centre of the city

    Figure 3: Participatory mapping process in the centre of the city

    [i]Epicollect + is an open source smartphone application that enables the design of surveys and the georeferenced data gathering and its transferal onto GIS.

    [ii] Drones are remote controlled airborne devices with cameras capturing up-to-date images. Although there is controversy about their application, if used sensitively, they can help advance the visualisation of typically disregarded realities. In ReMapLima, a project that preceded cLIMa sin Riesgo, drones were used to generate up-to-date images of both settlements which were later used as a cartographic base to geo-referenced the data gathered through the mapping process.

    Conducting Research in the Context of Evictions in Lima, Peru

    By Loan Diep, on 27 January 2015

    Children in Cantagallo. Image: Loan Diep

    The MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU is currently involved in a multi-year project of overseas field research in Lima, Peru. I was part of this project last year and worked in Cantagallo, a small area close to the centre of the city. My team’s initial plan was to explore the way the construction of a transport megaproject was affecting people working and living in Cantagallo. However, unexpected events occurred during our presence there, and they profoundly changed the situation. The megaproject was evolving more rapidly than expected and a relocation process of the population started in fundamentally different ways than officially announced.

    While several families had accepted this and begun to clear their plots in exchange for a controversially low amount of compensation, others were trying to resist and negotiate the terms of their relocation with the authorities. Many families were evicted without an acceptable agreement made, if any at all. However, as the video below attempts to illustrate, the situation differs from one case to another because Cantagallo has been inhabited by families with different histories, and thus, different rights according to the law. This diversity has added to the complexity of the situation: in some cases it has created conflicts within the communities and also hampered possibilities for negotiation with the authorities.

    On our first visit to Cantagallo, teenagers were playing football in a large circular area at the entrance to the neighbourhood. On our third visit, the landscape had literally changed within a few days: all trees were being uprooted and little temporary houses had started to mushroom in this same football pitch. We were witnessing the eviction of some and relocation of others. We knew we held no power to make a significant change. I remember the sense of panic that invaded our research group when we realised there was little chance we could realistically and positively contribute to the situation. But there was work to do and opportunities to explore.

    We decided to capture the complexities of Cantagallo, understand its intricacies and explore the injustices that have been produced and reproduced over time. Some people had already been evicted in the past and were about to experience the same again. We interviewed them to hear their stories. Despite the events, many people came to the workshop we organised there. More significantly, many people from different parts of Cantagallo came to our final presentation to hear what we had to say. It was really unexpected but they all came to listen, to comment and to discuss.

    Most importantly, they did it together. This big communication gap that we had observed and thought was hampering progress in negotiations was being bridged in front of us. This gave me hope that they could jointly engage with the authorities over the following weeks. Today (eight months later), I know the people of Cantagallo have not been able to resist the megaproject despite their collaborative efforts. However, I deeply hope that our work has provided them with some grounds to break the continuing cycle of eviction in Lima.

     

    Loan Diep is graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2014. Her academic background is in both natural and political sciences; she has degrees in Health, Safety and Environment (University of Caen, France) and a BSc in Environment Geography (UCL). Loan is currently working as a consultant for IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) and as a research intern at WSUP (Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor). She is also a Bartlett Ambassador for the period 2014-2017. Her interests lie in environmental politics, climate change, water & sanitation in the Global South.

    Read more about the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development overseas fieldtrips.