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World toilet Day 2021: toilets are seats of gender equality! Why? Because the gendered taboos surrounding toilets & sanitation deeply impact women and girls

By Nelly M Leblond, on 14 December 2021

Authors: Claudy Vouhé (L’être égale) and Nelly Leblond (DPU), with contributions from Penda Diouf (OGDS), Angèle Koué (GEPALEF), Astrid Mujinga (CFCEM/GA), Jeannine Raoelimiadana (SiMIRALENTA) and Mina Rakotoarindrasata (Genre en Action), and Adriana Allen (DPU)

//See online version published on OVERDUE website: https://overdue-justsanitation.net/?page_id=3514

According to Tatu Mtwangi Limbumba, a sanitation expert and member of the Tanzanian OVERDUE project team, traditional taboos surrounding excreta and toilets have been eroded in African cities. For example, in Kenya or Tanzania, the mixing of a mother-in-law’s excreta with that of her son-in-law, which once prohibited the construction of indoor latrines, is no longer an issue, and is being replaced by “modern aspirations” such as indoor and public toilets. Are these modern aspirations free from taboos?

 

When the feminist organisations CFCEM/GA (Coordination des Femmes Congolaises pour l’Équilibre dans les Ménages/Genre en Action) in the DRC, GEPALEF (Genre, Parité et Leadership Féminin) in Ivory Coast, SiMIRALENTA in Madagascar, and OGDS (Observatoire Genre et Développement de Saint-Louis) in Senegal interviewed women for the Voicing Just Sanitation campaign launched by OVERDUE with support from L’Etre Egale, few of these “traditional” taboos were mentioned. Instead, respondents spoke of :

  • enduring social rules that silently organise sanitation practices along gender lines, distributing opportunities and constraints, often to the detriment of women,
  • prejudices which surreptitiously relegate women to the end of the toilet queue, as well as to the very end of the list of employable people for paid sanitation jobs, in the private or public sector,
  • multiple constraints, preventing their safe access to toilets in public spaces, especially in urban areas, and in particular during their menstruation,
  • Above all, the women interviewed described the non-recognition of their contributions to sanitation from families and communities, but also from politicians and public authorities.

Figure 1: Nyawera Market public toilets, Bukavu, DRC (CFCEM/GA, 2021)

So what are we talking about?

Harmless or even positive (protective?) “modern taboos” for women, or prejudices that feed gender discrimination, rooted in social gender relations and endorsed by public authorities? On the basis of the testimonies collected and to open the conversation, we have drawn up an initial list of ten points (not prioritised) which articulate taboos, clichés and prejudices, that push intimate bodies and gender hierarchies into the field of public policy: 

 

1. Women’s digestive systems are different from men’s

This is what one might think when listening to Angèle Koué, a feminist activist in Côte d’Ivoire, talking about the taboos and prohibitions that surround women’s use of the toilet. In the courtyards of the concessions, women must not be seen too often around the toilets and must go after men. They should not make any noise or leave any smell when using the toilet. They can be repudiated for this. Women’s bodies, even in their most basic biological functions, must respond not to nature, but to patriarchal culture. However, the privacy and dignity of girls and women are often undermined by inappropriate facilities in both private and public spaces.

Figure 2: Visual minutes from OVERDUE workshop (Ada Jusic, 2021)

2. No one should know that a woman is menstruating

From the first to the last, menstruation should remain hidden, explains Emilie Tapé, a sex blogger in Abidjan. You shouldn’t stain yourself; you shouldn’t leave dirty towels lying around. Everything that revolves around menstrual blood is considered shameful, even for the many women and girls who have internalized these injunctions. And yet, changing in public toilets, especially, is a challenge, a feat and a risk! Inadequate facilities turn menstruation into a cyclical dread.

 

While toilet paper is considered a basic element of the toilet, sanitary napkins and bins for disposing of them are forgotten. As a result, women are singled out when pads clog septic tanks.

 

To stimulate engagement around this taboo, the OGDS in St Louis, Senegal, is countering with a short play illustrating what a caring and non-stigmatising handling of girls’ first periods in school might look like.

Figure 3 : Women and girls are key sanitation providers yet their needs, including menstrual, are sidelined (OGDS, 2021)

3. Sanitation work is too dirty and difficult for women

This prejudice is quickly invalidated by the fact that women overwhelmingly take charge of the maintenance of the sanitary facilities of the house, manually evacuating the family’s wastewater and excrement on a daily basis when the infrastructure is lacking or failing. This work is invisible and, of course, unpaid.

Prejudice also obscures the key roles of women in neighbourhoods as described by Mariam Bakayoko, a community leader in the Treichville neighbourhood of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Nadia Ramanantsara, in charge of public sanitation in the Urban Municipality of Antananarivo, also tells how women are involved as agents but also through associations that pool funds to remove waste and wastewater. Although, she also describes a very standard division of sanitation work within the community: women in communication, men in the field.

Figure 4: In Antananarivo, women are well represented in RF2 associations (Rafitra Fikojàna ny Rano sy Fidiovana, or “Water and Sanitation Management Structures”) and look after the daily sanitation of neighborhouds (SiMIRALENTA, 2021)

4. Women’s sanitation practices contribute to the insalubrity of cities and neighbourhoods

Abdoulaye “Pelé” observes that women “carelessly” dump their wastewater in the street in his neighbourhood in Saint-Louis, Senegal. In response, Awa ba, a resident of Diamaguene in Saint Louis, explains that families do not have sewer connections, private toilets, or the means to access them. In fact, they manage as best they can when the infrastructure is insufficient, especially when they have little money.

Whereas women are often blamed for their “irresponsible” management of wastewater and family excrement, the fact that men use public space to relieve themselves is little questioned in the discussion on unhealthy urban environments, according to Félicité Naweza, Provincial Deputy Mayor for South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Figure 5 : Women should be celebrated for their sanitation work not blamed for deficient infrastructure and services (OGDS, 2021)

5. Sanitation jobs are not for women

This cliché perpetuates the idea that women have no place in the paid sanitation sector as employees of companies or communities, or as company managers. This view is contradicted by the testimony of Véronique Randriaranison, manager of a waste disposal company in Antananarivo which deals in particular with mobile urinals.

Defying the stigma, Prisca tells why she accepted the job of “pee lady” at one of these mobile urinals and now wishes that her work would never stop. Solange Tiémélé, deputy mayor in the commune of Treichville in Abidjan, also advocates opening up sanitation jobs to women and calls for private-public partnerships to achieve this.

Figure 6 : The sanitation sector contains job opportunities for women (SiMIRALENTA, 2021)

6. It is better to hold back than to risk infection or aggression in unsanitary and unsafe public toilets

Lack of hygiene and safety has given rise to this prohibition, a sort of “protective” taboo. In Abidjan, for example, the poor maintenance of public facilities in working-class neighbourhoods and their mixed accessibility generate a widespread fear of urinary infections, as noted by Emilie Tapé, a sex blogger; but also a fear of sexual harassment and assault, according to Brigitte Taho, president of a feminist NGO.

This “retention“, which women and girls have internalised “for their own good“, puts their health at risk. The fear of sexual harassment and assault weighs heavily on women’s peace of mind and well-being in public spaces, and therefore on their citizenship and rights.

Figure 7: A shower in Abidjan (GEPALEF, 2021)

7. Toilets at any cost

Access to toilets is a right, not a luxury. However, this right continues to come at a price, especially for women. Lanto, a cleaner and tenant in the Malagasy capital, tells how landlords turn the improvement of toilets on their property into power and profit. By threatening to raise the rent, they easily put an end to the demands of poor tenants, especially women who are alone with their families.

 

Having a “proper” toilet in the home becomes a symbol of social success. The lack of social and economic power keeps women and families in degrading situations and increases their dependence on paid public toilets, which are often non-existent or inadequate. It also increases dependence on toilets and bathrooms at workplaces, which then become a real bonus.

 

Félicité Nawaza, deputy mayor of a commune in Kivu (DRC), points out that in public spaces, women spend more than men to use the toilets because, unlike men, they do not undress to pee behind a pole! Paradoxically, due to a lack of options, they are forced to contribute to the profitability of companies or communities that are reluctant to employ them because they are women.

Figure 8: The lack of accessible facilities near markets particularly affects women (Source: GEPALEF Abidjan, 2021)

8. The toilet is for “relieving oneself”

Of course, but that’s not all it is! It is also a place that is often used for washing or changing (especially during menstruation). This multi-purpose use remains unthought of, as does the mixing of spaces.

Nathalie Musau, deputy spokesperson for the students of the Institut supérieur d’études commerciales et financières (ISECOF) in Bukavu (DRC) explains how, at the university, mixed sex toilets generate discomfort. Female students want to use the university toilets to change clothes or put on make-up, but they come across their (male) professors or fellow students.

Mixed toilets also encourage sexual assault. Women are encouraged to go to school and to attain higher education degrees, but the infrastructure and buildings are not adapting to their bodily needs. In schools, says Anjara Maharavo from the urban commune of Antananarivo, the issue of mixed toilets is starting to be taken into account.

Figure 9: Relieving oneself, changing, washing, checking one’s outfit … toilets are used for multiple purposes (OGDS, 2021)

9. You don’t fight over a toilet: well, yes you do!

Women and their associations play a decisive, but invisibilised role in the collaboration between communities and municipalities. The problem is that they receive little recognition and support for the work they do on a daily basis, sometimes with shame and without any social or economic reward, to make up for the lack of infrastructure and the deficiencies of states and communities.

Collective demands on sanitation issues revolve more around the issue of access to water. Toilets, symbols of (still taboo) bodily needs and intimacy, are struggling to find their place in community advocacy, with an impact that weighs even more heavily on women and girls. However, women are mobilised in the struggle, as in Saint-Louis, but everything remains to be done!

Figure 10: Women speaking up to make toilets seats of gender equality!

10. Toilets, a political taboo?

The reluctance of decision-makers to talk publicly about excreta, latrines and bodily needs keeps sanitation low on the agenda, according to Astrid Mujinga of the NGO CFCEM/GA. A double gender discrimination is in place:

On the one hand, limited investment in neighbourhood facilities to serve residents, as well as poor infrastructure in public space or educational venues, mainly affects girls and women. Why are they affected? Because they do not use the street as a urinal, they need privacy, security and appropriate spaces; and because they use toilets more than men for physiological, but also social, reasons (they are mainly the ones who accompany small children to the toilet, for example). This calls for gender-sensitive budgeting for sanitation.

On the other hand, when infrastructure is in place, employment opportunities in the private and public sectors are reserved for men, whereas women have sanitation skills (acquired at home), or can develop them. A political will to act in favour of professional equality and gender diversity in the workplace would enable women who so wish to enter this promising field of employment. This is what Fatoumata Djiré Ouattara, deputy mayor of the municipality of Koumassi (Abidjan), would like to see.

 

In cities, taboos and prejudices linked to gender are constantly being re-created. They feed political and technical blind spots and legitimise the unequal distribution of rights, benefits, advantages and disadvantages between women and men in the field of sanitation. By highlighting and deconstructing these gender issues, the feminist organisations of the OVERDUE project are lobbying for real gender equality around the toilet seat and throughout the sanitation chain.

 

 

  • Discover the films produced in Antananarivo, Bukavu, Saint Louis and Abidjan, presented during a webinar on 12 November 2021 titled “Toilets, seats of gender equality?” and discussed by OVERDUE researchers and guests.

 

DPU, CatalyticAction, UN-Habitat and UNICEF create a practical handbook for co-designing with children affected by displacement

By Aishath Green, on 9 December 2021

The DeCID handbook is a practical toolkit for actors involved in co-designing with children affected by displacement. It stands for ‘Designing with children in displacement’, an abbreviation that plays on the word ‘decide’ – a right the handbook believes children and communities affected by displacement should be entitled to. Indeed at the core of its approach is the belief that children are agents and right holders who have the knowledge and expertise with which to shape their own lives. Based on this premise, the handbook sets out the importance of co-designing with children affected by displacement, the benefits it can have for displaced children and their communities, and the tools needed to make this happen. Its aim is to raise the number and quality of built interventions that are co-designed with children affected by displacement in the urban context, ultimately advancing their wellbeing and increasing democratic responses to global displacement.

Illustration by Ottavia Pasta

The handbook is a partnership between the DPU, CatalyticAction, UN-Habitat and UNICEF and is a product of extensive research around the area of participatory design. In line with its inter-sectoral approach, the research, case studies and tools found in the handbook, are the cumulation of work conducted by academics, designers, humanitarian actors, municipalities, local communities and children! In addition to the main handbook, we’ve also produced a series of thematic briefs and short videos containing interviews we conducted with experts around the process of co-designing with children. Our research also engaged MSc students who led 8 dissertation projects on themes related to the handbook. While the focus of the DeCID handbook was to condense research at the intersection of child displacement, co-design and urban contexts into one handbook, throughout the project we found and built upon a number of excellent resources. Therefore, to complement the DeCID project, we’ve created an open-access online resource library to allow for further reading around areas of particular interest.

The DeCID handbook and interactive website were officially launched on the 2nd of December with an online event about co-designing with children affected by displacement. Speakers from DPU, UN-Habitat, UNICEF and CatalyticAction each presented their take on the importance of participatory design, the benefits it brings to displaced and host communities and their experiences of how it can and should be implemented. With attendees present from 27 different countries and translations in both Spanish and Arabic (the other languages of the handbook), it was the perfect way to introduce the handbook to a much wider global audience.

Illustration by Ottavia Pasta

The key messages and ideas from DeCID can be summarised as follows. 

  • With protracted refugee situations now lasting an estimated average of 26 years and 60% of refugees living in urban areas, it is vital that social infrastructure including schools, playgrounds and public spaces are of good quality. For children specifically, high quality infrastructure can lead to healthier development and positive wellbeing. 
  • By using co-design methods to engage children in the creation of high quality social infrastructure, actors can ensure that it appropriately meets their needs. Indeed every child’s experience of displacement is different, defined by age, culture, gender, family structure amongst other factors that require tailored spatial interventions. 
  • Successful co-design interventions also rely on a collaboration between actors, each of whom can bring different and suitable expertise to a project. This means working with designers, engineers, construction workers but also educators, psychologists and caregivers who can bring their specific knowledge to a project. 
  • There are numerous benefits of taking a co-design approach. These include: improving social cohesion between displaced and host communities; boosting the local economy by providing work, training and a demand for locally sourced materials; an increased sense of ownership towards public spaces and sustainable infrastructure in the long-term. 


The DeCID handbook provides a framework of tools, templates, guidelines and case studies that can be used as a base for different co-design initiatives. You can access the open-source handbook here:
https://decid.co.uk/ 

Holding the space: Women and Girls Safe Spaces for refugees and asylum seekers in Greece

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, on 24 November 2021

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Ignacia reflects on the importance of securing women´s safe spaces for female refugees and asylum seekers and shares her experience working with refugee women in Samos, Greece, one of the five EU designated ´hotspot islands’ with newly imposed restrictions on refugees.

Photo credit: Author

 

Women and girls have less access and power in public spaces than men. The creation of safe, female-only spaces has been a key counterspace created for women to feel safe and for feminist movements to organise. In humanitarian contexts and emergencies – in which the existing social networks and institutional structures disintegrate – safeguarding women and girls’ rights is crucial. In this context, Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) have become a strategic intervention to protect female refugees. In a male dominated environment, they aim to create a place safe from violence, but also safe to connect cognitively, intellectually and emotionally, to receive psychosocial support, create solidarity amongst women from different countries, and claim rights.

Adult women represent a fifth of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. This smaller overall proportion (in the last 2 years, 42.6% are male, 23.1% are women and 34.3% are children), has been explained by the risks and the high cost that the journey entails, with young men opting to travel first and then reunite with their families. Although Greece has been one of the preferred points of entry to the EU, the designation of five islands – Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos – by the EU as ‘hotspots’ in the Aegean Sea means that refugees and asylum seekers that arrive on these islands cannot continue their journey into Europe, but are instead processed there, often waiting indefinitely for the outcome of their applications.

In addition to the current Covid restrictions in Greece, the controversial new EU-funded Reception Centre in Samos – a closed space, with double barbed wire, metal detectors and a strict entry and exit policy – has drastically reduced the possibility for women to access female-only safe spaces, legal advice and health care outside the camp.

What do WGSS do for female refugees and asylum seekers?

Female refugees are at high risk of gender-based violence, exploitation, and human trafficking. This is an issue that civil society organisations, alongside asylum seekers, have been campaigning for across Europe. In this context, WGSS aim to provide:

“(…)  physical spaces where women and adolescent girls can be free from harm and harassment. They are also places where women and adolescent girls can gain knowledge and skills; access GBV response services or other available services, and foster opportunities for mutual support and collective action in their community.” International Rescue Committee-International Medical Corps

The ultimate aim of WGSS is to foster transformational change, serving as a counter space within a larger unequal space, such as in humanitarian settings. Specifically for GBV interventions, evidence of WGSS around the world shows that safe spaces for women and girls represent a key intervention and entry point for meaningful access to lifesaving services for GBV survivors seeking access to case management and psychosocial support services hosted in the WGSS.

Holding the space for women and adolescent girls within new Reception Centre restrictions in Samos island

There are at least two spaces dedicated exclusively to female refugees and asylum seekers in Samos, both of which are managed by NGOs: WGSS from Samos Volunteers and We Are One Centre from Glocal Roots. Both spaces have been operating for several years and have adapted to the needs of female refugees and the changing situations for refugees in the island. Until September 2021 (when refugees were transferred to the new Reception Centre), both WGSS catered for thousands of women that lived in the ‘old camp’ just outside of the city of Vathy.

In the last 2 months however, women’s access to these spaces has been drastically reduced. The new Reception Centre – one of five multipurpose reception and identification centres – was built in an isolated area 6km away from the city centre, far from services and NGO support, and has reduced the possibility for women to access WGSS. In this context, holding the space is not only creating and maintaining a physical space for women, but also advocating for these spaces to exist.

Since 7th November, Covid restrictions in Greece stipulate that a vaccination pass is required to enter any building.  However, the camp only vaccinates once a week and women have said that they need to arrive at 6am as the doses available are limited, and then they need to wait 2 weeks for the certificate. Most importantly, on 17th November, further restrictions were introduced in the Reception Centre further reducing women’s possibility of leaving the camp.

The Reception Centre operates with a card reader and metal detector. The new restrictions affect new arrivals who have to wait between 1 to 2 months for vaccination and an ID card; people with a second rejection in their asylum claim, whose card is taken from them and who are waiting for legal aid to make a new case or to be sent back; and people with residency whose card has also been taken until they are allowed to leave the Reception Centre.

The Reception Centre’s drastic restrictions measures means that women – the majority from Somalia, DRC and Afghanistan – have very few places to congregate. Each container sleeps eight people (two bunk beds in each room and a kitchen). There are no communal spaces in the containers. There is a football pitch which women do not use, and a communal area, mostly occupied by men. Where do women meet in the camp? What places do they find safe? It is hard to know. Women are just getting used to this new arrangement. Some women find solidarity with women from their same country of origin, as they share the language and everyday practices.

Providing a space that can foster solidarity, empowerment or even just a basic nurturing environment which is free of violence has been severely constrained. And so, amidst the uncertainty, holding the space is fundamental.

______________

Author:

Dr. Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren is an Associate Staff at Development Planning Unit (University College London) and is currently based on the island of Samos, Greece.

Reflections from the frontlines: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 2)

By Nick Anim, on 18 November 2021

Read Part 1 here.

Mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK have long been challenged by what I call a ‘chronic affliction of diversity deficiency syndrome’. A consistent criticism levelled against them is that of ‘elitism’, which comes with a charge that their activists tend to be predominantly White, middle-class, well-educated, and post-materialist people who often have the time, space, and wherewithal to engage in environmental activism. Implicit in that charge is that environmentalists are constantly preoccupied with, for example, the conservation of nature and the increasing parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but otherwise characteristically silent or seemingly apathetic to the hostile environments billions of people endure and navigate daily due to a variety of persistent and durable inequalities (Cf. Tilly, 1998; Morris, 2000).

Relatedly, from my research exploring the perennial challenges of inclusion and diversity in glocal environmental movements, movements which ‘think globally and act locally’ on issues of environmental degradation – case study the Transition movement – a question that I have wrestled with is ‘do environmentalists have a problem with social justice?’

Introducing that question in my previous piece (Anim, 2021a), I signposted research by various political theorists and urban planners which problematise and challenge the widely-held assumption that environmental sustainability and social justice are not only interconnected, but also interdependent in a relationship of mutual reinforcement on the same virtuous circle of development (see, for example, Dobson, 2003; Marcuse, 1998). Theories and debates examining their immanent antagonisms, tensions, ambiguities and universal compatibility notwithstanding, my longitudinal autoethnographic research of, and hence activism with, diverse environmental movements and organisations, indicate that two recent global events – the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations – ushered in something of a critical inflection point regarding how, and perhaps even more importantly why, movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity across differences with groups fighting against persistent issues of racial and social injustice, in order to achieve their shared demands for systems change.

Against the backdrop of social justice grievances being filtered through the lens of racial justice and propelled to the fore by those two recent events, I reflect in this piece on trying to help the Transition movement (TM) better understand and address its diversity deficiency syndrome, and consider how the movement has been recalibrating its notions and narratives of environmental transformations to include concerns about social justice.

 

Transition and the collective action dilemma of ‘all lives matter’

Since its emergence in 2006 as an environmental movement predominantly concerned about peak oil and energy descent, the TM has always been in transition; a real-life, real-time global social experiment that periodically revises its principles and core-values through iterative processes of learning and unlearning. Based on its ideological roots and references to the principles of permaculture, the TM’s community-led model for change has frequently emphasised the importance of diversity as a segue to encouraging local Transition groups to engage with matters of social inclusion and, relatedly, social justice. However, in practice, the approach adopted by many groups has, at best, been passive and, at worst, non-existent. My research suggests that for many activists drawn to the movement by its defiantly positive solutions-based approach, and its staunchly apolitical stance, ‘wicked problems’ of social and particularly racial injustice are often seen as far too political and divisive, especially in our current moment of polarising identity politics.

Advising on that reticence to engage in race matters and why matters of race matter in environmental matters, I have, in numerous presentations and workshops delivered to various Transition groups and other environmental organisations since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent BLM protests, argued that to demote, sidestep, hold at arm’s length or strategically swerve persistent matters of racial and social injustice in the dogged apolitical prioritisation of ecocentric resilience and sustainability, is to appear well-adjusted to injustice, well-adapted to indifference, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

On that last point of living in cognitive dissonance, an apolitical stance that is grounded in the post-political conditioning and configurations often deemed necessary for the disciplining role of consensus-building in environmental activism, betrays an ignorance borne of and maintained by a social, moral, and epistemic imaginary of self-deception and structured blindness. And that, as Charles W. Mills has argued, reveals an implicit ‘agreement to misinterpret the world’ (1997:18). Seen as non/mis/mal-recognition, that approach functions to effectively filter out any empirical evidence about the durable inequalities that conspire to create and perpetuate social and, relatedly, racial injustices. Such self-deception and structured blindness are axiomatic in the recursive and pervasive ecologies of wilful ignorance intrinsic to the colour-blind perspective within environmentalism’s, and hence environmentalists’ de facto ‘all lives matter’ entry point. Yet, ‘all lives matter’ is a promise, an ideal, that is yet to be met. And yet, it must be met. And therein lies an inescapable collective action dilemma – the recognition of difference. Aristotle was right; there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. In the context of the BLM protests, ‘all lives can’t/won’t matter, until Black lives matter’.

When allied with power and the ‘invisible knapsack’ (McIntosh, 1988) of race privileges in the unsettled multiculturalisms (Hesse, 2000:2) of countries such as the UK, it becomes clear that the wilful ignorance of colour-blindness, understood as an active and dynamic perspective formed through processes of knowing designed to produce not knowing, is, in the words of James Baldwin, ‘the most ferocious enemy justice can have’ (2007: 149). The silence of wilful ignorance, colour blindness, ‘all lives matter’, is a form of power too. With the power and privilege to speak or act in the face of others’ distress and injustice, to remain a silent bystander, to bear silent witness, is to be complicit. Silence is violence.

Transition’s (a)political pivot?

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and during the BLM protests, the organisational body of the TM released a statement of solidarity, expressing an ambition to do much better and much more to “become a movement which actively supports social justice and amplifies the work of Black and [B]rown communities striving to create a safe, resilient and regenerative future for all people, [and] to bring clearer focus to the huge shifts urgently required of the Global North if we are to deliver anything remotely resembling climate justice for Black and [B]rown communities in the Global South” (McAdam, 2020).

Overall, the statement captured perhaps the most explicit suggestion of a paradigm shift intention by the TM since its inception. In its entirety, it appeared to orientate the TM towards adopting a more political stance, and a proactive, rather than passive, approach to social justice. How, since then, has the movement operationalised those intentions?

Transition Bounce Forward: (re)locating social justice in the Transition Movement

Following the TM’s BLM statement, the ‘Transition: Bounce Forward’ (TBF) initiative was set up with the express ambition of helping local Transition groups advance its paradigm shift intentions. I joined the nascent TBF team to advise and help assess how emerging Transition projects could better understand and then engage with issues of social justice, looked at through the varifocal lens of race, class, and other constructs of marginalisation.

Under the momentum of that paradigm shift thinking, we, the TBF team, designed and delivered the ‘What Next? Summit’, a series of online events that were held over a three-week period. We grappled with challenging topics, questions, and conversations about the intersections between justice and the environment, and how Transition groups might navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their community-engagement approaches. For several sessions of the Summit, we platformed and amplified the work of Black and Brown community organisers, as well as projects focused on the concerns of marginalised groups.  In my research and activism with the TM, it appeared that the Summit marked a pivotal moment in the movement’s approach to issues of social justice (see, Anim, 2021b).

To say the Summit ‘appeared’ to mark a pivotal moment for the TM is to simultaneously acknowledge and suggest that time will, ultimately, be the arbiter of integrity and success. In that respect, it is also important to question how the visions of paradigm shifting that were widely discussed and promoted during the Summit, have cascaded down to the ways Transition groups are reaching beyond ‘the usual suspects’, their choir of adherents.

To help Transition groups navigate issues of inclusion and diversity in their locality, TBF offered a course on ‘engaging with difference in collaborative community organising’. A key focus was on learning and unlearning to encourage activists to develop an approach to community engagement practices that put connections first by building relationships through trying to understand the lived experiences of disparate community members. With this approach, the course aimed to prompt and help Transition groups to pursue collaborative projects that bring together social justice and environmental sustainability.

It is noteworthy here that although the course was fully funded and open to all Transition groups in the UK – just under 300 – less than 10% of the groups took up the offer. Whilst bad timing and availability of activists were given as the main reasons for the low uptake, the question about environmentalists having a problem with social justice looms large.

In my study of Transition Town Brixton (TTB), guided by my research findings and the discussions during the ’What Next? Summit’, as well as the TBF community engagement course, we conducted some visioning exercises that involved numerous interviews with diverse members of the community, and four online workshops under the umbrella question of ‘What If Lambeth?’ to establish how people envisioned the borough in 2030. Focusing on four themes – food, enterprise, community spaces, and fashion and music –the resulting visions, captured in the composite sketch below, begin to encapsulate our recalibrated ambition of ‘inspiring local action for a sustainable and socially just future’. Whilst there is much more work to be done in relation to what I call ‘hot-button issues’ such as racist policing and the politics of urban poverty, the paradigm shifting has begun.

To conclude this piece, the question of whether environmentalists have a problem with social justice and, perhaps more specifically, issues of racial justice, is one that has long plagued mainstream environmental movements in Occidental countries such as the UK. Regardless of how accurate its analysis of the situation is, no movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing. Therefore, it is vitally important, from time to time, to engage in a dose of critical self-inventory. Why? If a movement is unwilling to expose itself and its ideas to some scrutiny and criticism, then it will not grow or succeed. In that regard, the TM has, even if morally coerced to do so by the zeitgeist resulting from recent events, embarked on a journey that I believe will help it become more relevant to different groups beyond its usual adherents. That is especially important in the unsettled multiculturalisms of urban agglomerations where there are often imbalances in available resources, cultural heterogeneity, ethnic and/or class tensions and transient populations. Though the organisational body of the TM, and indeed other environmental movements such as Extinction Rebellion, have seemingly embraced a ‘justice pivot’, many activists remain reticent. It is, therefore, the duty of the core movement organisers to help activists understand why their fight for environmental sustainability and matters of justice are intertwined and inseparable in the long quest for ‘systems change, not climate change’.

Having mainly focused here on the ‘how’ factor of the TM’s efforts to address matters of social justice, I propose, in my third and final piece under the titular question ‘does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice?’, to look at ‘why’ I believe environmentalism should not be pursued in dogmatic isolation, and hence movements for environmental sustainability should try to build solidarity with social justice groups.

 

References

Anim, N., 2021a. Reflections from the frontline: Does environmental sustainability have a problem with social justice? (Part 1). The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Access via: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dpublog/2021/04/01/reflections-from-the-frontline-does-environmental-sustainability-have-a-problem-with-social-justice-part-1/

Anim, N., 2020b. The What Next Summit: a pivotal moment for social justice in Transition? Transition: Bounce Forward. Transition Network. Access via: https://transition-bounceforward.org/the-what-next-summit-a-pivotal-moment-for-social-justice-in-transition/

Baldwin, J., 2007. No Name in the Street. 1972. New York: Vintage.

Dobson, A., 2003. Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, pp.83-95.

Hesse, B. ed., 2000. Un/settled multiculturalisms: diasporas, entanglements, transruptions. Zed Books.

Marcuse, P., 1998. Sustainability is not enough. Environment and urbanization, 10(2), pp.103-112.

McAdam, S., 2020. Black Lives Matter: A statement written collaboratively by the Transition Network team…Published 6 June 2020. Accessed via: https://transitionnetwork.org/news/black-lives-matter/

McIntosh, P., 1988. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.

Mills, C.W., 2014. The racial contract. Cornell University Press.

Morris, A., 2000. Building blocks of social inequality: a critique of durable inequality. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 42(2), pp.482-486.

Tilly, C., 1998. Durable inequality. University of California Press.

Tren Maya: high hopes and contested development in the Yucatan Peninsula

By Naji P Makarem, on 24 September 2021

Authors: Naji Makarem, Étienne von Bertrab and Alessio Koliulis

This year our students in the MSc Urban Economic Development embarked on our Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) by focusing their attention on the Tren Maya project in Mexico, president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)’s flagship development project. The Tren Maya project is poised to connect and develop 19 towns and cities in the Yucatan Peninsula, the South-East region of Mexico. Students were split into six groups, with two student groups focusing on the potential impact of the train on three distinct locations: Mérida, one of the region’s largest cities, San Francisco de Campeche, a smaller port city with a run-down economy, and Xpujil, a small community planned to become an urban centre.

Students found themselves immersed in literature about Mexico and the Tren Maya as well as primary research in the form of stakeholder interviews, conducted with our partners at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana – Xochimilco, a prestigious public university in Mexico City. They also participated in a series of professionally-interpreted live sessions with stakeholders based in Yucatan and Mexico City. This allowed live interaction between our international students and stakeholders without language being a barrier.

Current route of the Tren Maya and proposed stations. As with the overall project, the route is having modifications as excavations reveal valuable archaeological sites, technical challenges are reassessed, but also as the project meets social and political resistance in some locations. Image: FONATUR

What makes this research particularly interesting is the wide spectrum of stakeholders we engaged with, from indigenous Mayan and environmental activist groups concerned about the social and environmental impact of the project, to government and international development representatives who believe the project is unique in Mexico’s history with its pro-poor approach. AMLO, who is originally from the region, claims that this project is different to past development projects that have been widely seen by the people as exploitative and destructive of the environment. Will this project be any different? This question to a great extent has shaped the research of UED MSc students at the DPU.

In San Francisco de Campeche, the organisation Colectivo Tres Barrios has opposed the relocation of their homes and brought successful appeals. A recent decision to relocate the station means the train will no longer enter the heart of the city and hundreds of residents will continue to live in their traditional neighbourhoods. Photo: Arturo Contreras (Pie de Página)

 

It became very apparent that Mexico’s contested history has left its mark on the region in the form of dis-trust of the government and economic actors, including trans-national corporations, and for good reasons: the development model has so far benefitted only a few and the territory has been significantly altered at the expense of local communities, affecting traditional ways of life and of seeing the world. While the government aimed to have (for the first time in the country) an indigenous consultation process for the project in late 2019, it did not meet the standards to ensure a prior, free, informed and culturally adequate consent. Subsequently, the decision to involve the army in its construction, and in the running of the train, has triggered further concerns. The government claims the decision aims at impeding a privatisation of the train in subsequent administrations, something that can be understood considering the country’s troubled past with highly corrupt and problematic privatisation of infrastructure and services.

Some indigenous communities are concerned about losing their lands and communal ways of life, and others are concerned about environmental devastation which they anticipate from a reduction in transport costs for commodities in the region, through the unsustainable extraction of finite natural resources and unsustainable agricultural practices that cause deforestation and pollute the land and waters with toxic chemicals such as synthetic pesticides. Another concern is the anticipated growth in tourism which in the region’s main tourist centre, Cancún, has brought a significant increase in crime and inequality. The question of development for whom and how became a cross-cutting concern of all six research groups.

Will the Tren Maya project simply perpetuate the inequality, violence, and environmental degradation characteristic of past tourism-led development projects in the region, or is this indeed a new era for Mexico where development is aligned with the needs of people and the environment? Anti-capitalist movements such as the Zapatistas (the EZLN) would argue that all state and corporate interventions in the region disrupt their autonomy and are by the very nature of the capitalist system exploitative and violent. They want to expand horizontal models of self-determination outside the domain of state institutions. Other indigenous groups and community organisations echo these concerns which at some level resonate with many Mexicans but are open to engaging with the project to ensure it respects and promotes their way of life and their environment and that it creates meaningful opportunities for their communities.

While sceptical in a context of high levels of distrust in government and corporate institutions, interviews with community leaders shed light on their cautious optimism as they imagine ways they and their communities could benefit from the Tren Maya and the opportunities it may bring to them. The people in the region are predominantly in favour of the Tren Maya when framed as a yes or no to the project in principle. This the government argues is proof of support for the project.

Many national and transnational companies are involved in the project, considered the largest ongoing infrastructure development project in Latin America. The winning consortia for building the trains themselves ensured these will be built with significant national components in Mexico, in the impoverished state of Hidalgo. Photo: Government of Mexico.

 

What the community organisations have done is carve a wedge between this black or white approach and shed light on the all-important question of how. It is not simply a question of building the train line or not, it is a question they argue of whether the project will ultimately benefit the people or not, which is determined by the intentions and plans and ways of thinking of those implementing the project and its associated development strategies and initiatives.

Our students quickly understood the significance of their engagement and sought to bridge gaps of understanding and dialogue between indigenous community and environmental groups on one hand and the government institutions and their international development partners such as UN Habitat, on the other.

UED will continue its OPE working on the Tren Maya project for the next few years, as it accompanies the project and hopefully contributes to achieving its noble stated aims.

 

We want to thank all our team: Professor Violeta Núñez, Rocío Itzel Sánchez, Rodrigo Migoya, and DPU alumna Sofía Fernández, in Mexico, our translator, DPU alumnus George Azariah-Moreno, Jing Zhang, and each of our students in the cohort 2020-21, for their meaningful engagement despite the remote nature of this first year of the OPE. They are listed below in alphabetical order: Aisha Abdi,  Aya Aboelenen,  Ellen Ahn,  Izzudin Al Farras,  Saad Alsabah,  Abdullah Arshad,  Juliano Cavalli De Meira,  Mao Chen,  Qingya Cheng,  Chung Ching Lo,  Armando Espitia Arevalo, Tanyeli Guler,  Heesu Jeon,  Tanya Kasinganeti, Adha Khazina Kazmi,  Tatsunari Kubonishi,  Fasheng Liang,  Hope McGee,  Consolata Ndungu,  Yasin Omar Ashley Richardson,  Hoodo Richter,  Amin Rirash,  Qi Ru,  Yasmeen Safaie,  Shamira Sendagala,  Shuqi Su,  Genevieve Sundaresan,  Alia Tolba,  Yan Xu,  Jiaying Xue,  Xinyue Yi,  Binyu Wang,  Siyu Wang and  Dixuan Zhao.

Decolonising urban sanitation through celebration

By Nelly M Leblond, on 14 September 2021

The project “OVERDUE: Tackling the sanitation taboo across urban Africa” was launched in July 2021, several months into the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time no vaccine was yet in sight for the places and people central to the project: the women, men, girls and boys who build and run vital infrastructures of care across African cities. On the frontline, with scarce protective equipment, they were – and still are – subject to lockdowns and travel bans while dealing with viral residues, reduced livelihoods, limited access to water and sanitation, and increased caring responsibilities.

Inspired by the Disability Festivals organized by the AT2030 programme, the OVERDUE team saw the potential of using festivals to destigmatize the work of sanitation providers and to spark new conversations. The principal investigator, Adriana Allen, saw festivals as “context sensitive”, acknowledging sanitation as a lifeline for urban and domestic spaces in the pandemic.

At the end of 2020, the OVERDUE team embarked on a set of celebratory activities in the cities of Beira (Mozambique), Freetown (Sierra Leone), and Mwanza (Tanzania), where OVERDUE’s research is rooted. These were complemented by an online campaign: Voicing Just Sanitation. Beyond sensitivity and fun, the sanitation celebrations embedded a theoretical and methodological claim that aligns with the call to decolonise the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) sector.

 

 

Sanitation festivals

The city sanitation festivals immediately attracted enthusiasts. Claudy Vouhé from l’Etre Egale, for example, envisioned the potential to re-position women as key providers, challenging the narratives of women as mere sanitation beneficiaries.

However, there were also some doubts raised. Sending colleagues to organise festivals during a pandemic, and forcing celebrations on to a sector that people might locally want to treat otherwise, seemed problematic. So I asked Allen: “can’t we just have soap handouts instead of festivals?” Colleagues from the Sierra Leonean Urban Research Centre (SLURC) had been praised for offering soaps and buckets. Fortunately, Allen held on, convinced that festivals could go a long way. And they did.

Figure 1: Collectively organizing the Sanitation Festival in Freetown, and reaching out to different parts of the city to stimulate conversations. Source: Ibrahim Bangura, SLURC, November 2020.

In Freetown, SLURC organized a sanitation walk across the city on World Toilet Day, 19 November 2020. “It had much more success than I thought” acknowledged Sulaiman Kamara, researcher at SLURC, “communities did not want to let us go. They showed us their toilets, they had so much to say.” COVID-19 was a challenge. Attendances had to be reduced, and the planned football match could not go ahead. The participants ended up wearing the shirts designed for the players, advertising Freetown’s City Council sanitation hotline.

In Beira, the team led by COWI-Mozambique organized radio debates in partnership with Mega-FM Radio to reach communities and households under lockdown. This allowed the voices and preoccupations of individual residents to “bubble up”, and discussion of these in the light of colonial legacies, corruption, hopes and constrained capacities. Officials from the municipality and sanitation services, practitioners and local authorities were publicly broadcasted, moving sanitation out of the grey zone of unspoken frustrations to the spotlight of public accountability.

Figure 2: Student presenting her illustration of unsatisfactory sanitation during the Sanitation Festival in Mwanza, December 2020. Source: CCI.

In Mwanza, the Centre for Community Initiatives CCI Tanzania and Ardhi University organized presentations, dances and a drawing competition on the subject of safe sanitation in the Mabatini neighbourhood. This created a space to publicly challenge taboos and to discuss options such as simplified sewerage systems. The women who, mostly, maintain the sanitation facilities voiced their concerns and struggles to uphold privacy and safety.

The festivals turned out to be powerful tools for engaging with local sanitation authorities, providers and users; and for connecting these groups with each other.

Decolonizing sanitation

By celebrating existing initiatives and practices, and by taking stock of what local people and organisations knew rather than pathologizing them, the sanitation festivals departed from dominant approaches.

They challenged the white saviour complex, whereby foreigners construct issues to match their capacities so as to later claim ego-centric successes. This complex has plagued the WASH sector since the colonial era, as hygiene and sanitation were, and sometimes still are, conceived as western “gifts” to “unclean” and “uncivilized” populations.

In contrast, the festivals materialised what Māori researcher Linda Tuhiwai Smith calls “celebrating survivance”. They focused on the resistance, resilience, and journeys that have enabled indigenous people to survive and retain cultural and spiritual values, despite harmful processes and structures such as colonialism, imperialism, racism, and neoliberalism.

Valuing everyday sanitation practices as local acts of heroism produces enabling positions and identities. This contrasts with damage-based research, which looks for victims, stigmatizing and disempowering those it seeks to help.

Furthermore, the celebratory perspective helped de-normalize poor sanitary conditions and voiced aspirations in non-antagonistic ways. This is crucial for interventions to successfully move beyond the pilot stage, another pitfall for projects imbued with coloniality. It creates motion that can be endogenously sustained beyond the festival events and research projects themselves.

Figure 3: Pears’ Soap advertisement, McClure’s Magazine, Oct. 1899. The ad reads “The first step towards lightening The White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pears’ Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place — it is the ideal toilet soap.”

 

Reordering time and expertise

The sanitation festivals made space and time for anchoring the research on pre-existing and context-specific engagements and practices. They inverted the traditional timeline of research, which rolls out pre-defined questions and methods and then shares “results” later, recognising that societies are both substrate and empty-cups-to-be-filled. Celebrating catalysed productive knowledge relations, that act both as objectives and railings, drive us forward while keeping us on track.

Figure 4: The team assembled by SLURC, from turning their backs to facing sanitation, composed of faecal sludge workers, researchers and members of CSOs and NGOs. Source: SLURC

Subtly, this redistributes expertise. It removes planners, practitioners and researchers from fenced offices and puts them on an equal footing with the women, men, girls and boys who work in sanitation every day. It multiplies standpoints and perspectives, a key feminist movement to strengthen objectivity.

Further, it makes the reinterrogation of colonial and post-colonial bifurcations between off-grid and on-grid sanitation possible. As both users and providers of sewerage facilities and on-site sanitation are engaged, co-dependencies between on-grid and off-grid systems can be observed and discussed. This is a necessary step to advance sanitation justice.

 

So, should we all celebrate?

Preconditions must be recalled and enthusiasm moderated. These sanitation festivals were made possible by SLURC, CCI, Ardhi University and COWI’s networks in Beira, Mwanza, and Freetown. The activities built on previously weathered collaborations and understandings.

Celebration cannot be parachuted. But as Somsook Boonyabancha urges us to think, it can be stirred if we invest in people rather than projects. Building communities, institutions and trust first so that drains and sanitation can be realised second.

Flexi funds, a budget facility to transfer money to partners with no strings attached, were crucial to designing context-specific and relevant activities. They helped participants to yield power and support creativity. Despite major budget cuts imposed by the UK government, this approach will continue to drive our work We hope that this will stimulate further moves to push back coloniality in the WASH sector, and that we can pursue a second edition, hopefully in a post-pandemic and socially re-energized context.

—-

The author wishes to acknowledge valuable input from Pascale Hofmann (UCL) and Adriana Allen (UCL). Celebration as a method will be further discussed in a dedicated session of the RISE Africa 2021 Action Festival.

Embracing Diversity: Inclusive Mobility for Women with Disabilities from Low Income Households in Kelayan Barat, Banjarmasin

By Anyu Liu, on 5 August 2021

Written by Fitria Nazmi, Gusti Muhammad Irsyad Maulana, Muhammad Firdauz Nuzula, Orchidea Annaysa Azizah, Rika Febriyantina, Yun Gu, Shuqi Fang, Manjin Wei, Adina Kaztayeva, Yaozhi Xu, Quynh Nguyen and Anyu Liu

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In April and May 2021, students from the MSc Social Development Practice programme, UCL together with students from the Urban Citizenship Academy, Indonesia (UCA)  and the Indonesian NGO Kota Kita conducted an Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). The engagement took place remotely due to the restrictions for the Covid-19 pandemic. Its overall aim was to learn about disabled people’s aspirations for inclusive public space and community engagement, and ultimately to promote inclusive citizenship in Indonesia, for our group it is especially in the city of Banjarmasin. The engagement is a part of the ongoing action-research project “AT2030: Community led Solutions” led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub.

During the OPE, our research specifically focused on the issue of inclusive mobility to increase access to public space for women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat,  Banjarmasin. Qualitative research methods were employed for our data collection, including a literature review, semi-structured interviews, and photo voice. With support from Kota Kita, a total of 15 interviews were carried out, of which six were face-to-face with women with disabilities who are residents from low-income households in Kelayan Barat. The other interviews were conducted online with policymakers from relevant governmental departments and a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) namely Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI), or Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, women participants were invited to take or choose videos and/or pictures themselves (photovoice) to visually demonstrate what they believe to be the good practice/ barriers associated with inclusive mobility. 

Key findings from our research demonstrate a highly prevalent need for mobility of women with disabilities in Kelayan Barat as well as the multiple barriers hindering this aspiration, which include:
 

Inadequate infrastructure and transport: The physical infrastructure of Kelayan Barat is a daily struggle for people with disabilities. The lack of inclusive design and quality infrastructure, e.g. unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway, prevents women with disabilities going out  and safely accessing public spaces. When they do go out, companions are often needed for assistance. The women  have limited access to transportation and assistive technology is inadequate, hampering mobility to the point of making some women housebound.

Image: Photos taken by participants during photovoice activity, April 2021 Row 1, left to right: favourite transport (motorcycle), example of insufficient infrastructure (unpaved alleyway and tyre pathway) Row 2: flooding in the settlement


Lack of social recognition and prevalent social stigma associated with disabilities and gender:
While most policymakers acknowledged the need to recognise the diversity of disabilities, challenges remain in realising this programme delivery. Amongst the interviewed stakeholders, only the HWDI leaders paid explicit attention to the social barriers which hinder the mobility of women with disabilities, such as insufficient social acceptance. The experiences shared by the women participants demonstrated the layered and intersectional discriminations they face due to their identities as women and having disabilities highlighting the importance of designing taking these intersectional identities into consideration. Specifically, women’s reproductive role can worsen their physical health and further obstruct their already limited mobility, and the role of house caretaker can restrict their freedom for mobility. In some cases, stigma against disability and the heavy burden of housework can result in them being prohibited from going outside by their own family.


Low active participation of women with disabilities in the planning and design of policies/programmes on mobility:
Women with disabilities participation in the planning process appears to encounter various challenges. First is the relatively top-down administrative style as policies/programmes are often designed and planned based primarily on policy makers’ and community leaders’ perceptions without sufficient inputs from women with disabilities. Secondly, women with disabilities lack information on relevant activities available to them. Besides, insufficient accessibility and affordability together with social stigma earlier discussed also hinder their participation in the process.


Limited community awareness and collective actions in supporting women with disabilities’ mobility: During interviews, women with disabilities and HWDI leaders indicate that community connection is crucial in improving the mobility of women with disabilities. While various departments at city level have implemented programmes, within the community, collective actions to support the mobility of women with disabilities appears limited. Although neighbourhood leaders considered the community environment to be open and friendly, the women interviewed felt the need for more community care. Social barriers such as the aforementioned stigma are not well recognised by community leaders, which further hinders the community’s collective efforts for the women’s social rehabilitation.

On the other hand, the active and substantial role that NGOs such as HWDI and Kota Kita play in providing diverse support to people with disabilities) in general and women in particular is promising. A report and advocacy output will be produced by the research team at the end of the engagement. We hope that what we have learned will contribute to the wider AT2030 project, as well as to the overall efforts in improving inclusivity for people with disabilities.


About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

 

Upholding ethical considerations during collaborative remote research in Banjarmasin, Indonesia

By Ritwika Deb, on 30 July 2021

Written by Naufal Muhammad Azca, Jianglei Bai, Chang Chao, Ritwika Deb, Farah Dhafiya, Kristy Adelia Gayatri, Ahmad Rizky Rolanda, Hargita Saputri Mei Vita, Mojun Sun, Yu Wei, Menglin Yang, Haoyang Zhang

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

In late February, we were introduced to our research project that aimed to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesian cities through a process of remote knowledge co-production that was to be designed and implemented by our group of 11 students from Kota Kita’s Urban Citizenship Academy and UCL’s MSc Social Development Practice programme, based across Indonesia, the United Kingdom and China. The project presented us researchers with the opportunity to learn from and contribute to  the Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) and the low-income neighbourhood of Pelambuan in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

While preparing the groundwork for the research strategy, the work of scholars like Nidhi Singal (2010) helped us understand that disability research in countries of the South faces many challenges and dilemmas in terms of design and implementation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our project included elements of both face-to-face interaction and remote data collection, which led to additional complexities, especially in terms of ethical and logistical considerations, which had to be carefully contemplated.

To account for the dilemmas that emerged from this challenging context, our team of researchers identified the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research (British Psychological Society, 2017) as the relevant code of ethics to build on.  Scholars and researchers across the board have long emphasized the importance of ethics – and for good reason, because us researchers ultimately are responsible for whether or not we do harm or good to communities. From setting the goals to shaping the strategy and implementing the methods on the ground – we play a key role as decision makers. By using the code of ethics, we learned that such a code can support researchers in general decision-making by giving them a structure to follow in the middle of the dynamic process of field engagement, allowing them to be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas if and when they arise. Especially in a scenario like ours, where unprecedented challenges could arise at the complex intersection of disability research and remote knowledge co-production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, this code of ethics served as a structure for our team members from the moment we began our engagement, not only helping us prevent potential challenges, but also making the process of dealing with emerging issues much easier.

 

  1. Ensuring informed consent

This principle of the referenced ethics guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring that participants make informed choices. The first practice in this regard was to provide adequate information about the research, to specify what kind of commitment was required from participants, and to make it very clear to them that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the research at any time if they wanted to.

To this end, the consent strategy was developed in accordance with the nature of the research methods and the needs of participants with disabilities.

First, a simple consent video was developed in the local language so that the research objectives could be clearly communicated to all, including participants with visual impairments.

Second, an accompanying consent form was created to enable participants with hearing impairments to lean on written information.

Third, participants were also given the opportunity to share verbal consent, if more feasible.

Finally, people with cognitive disabilities who expressed difficulties in giving informed consent were still invited to participate as long as they were accompanied by a family member or caregiver.

 

  1. Recognising participants’ choices

Another effort in relation to this principle was also to ensure that participants’ personal choices or preferences are always respected. To further stimulate responses to interview questions, we introduced a participatory photography method. In addition to securing consent from participants to use their photographs in our research work, we made adaptations in the process to allow participants of all abilities to take part by giving them the flexibility to either take the photos themselves or request the assistance of a researcher.

Our primary effort was to foster a safe space for them to express their opinions, address any unintentional stress during the activity and assure participants that if they withdrew their participation at any point there would be no consequences. An important instance to note is that when one of the participants showed a strong expression of autonomy on her part during the fieldwork and asserted that she was no longer in the mood to participate in this method, the researchers respected her decision without contestation.

Overall, this ethical consideration and the strategies used to promote it strengthened our understanding that a research project such as this should strongly value the opinions of participants, facilitate their inclusion and true participation even if the methods involve technical complexity. and ultimately consider participants’ needs, lived experiences and autonomy to be of the utmost importance.

In conclusion, adopting this ethical approach enabled us to adhere to a form of self regulation that guided us and defined the boundaries between what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in research. Although no code of ethics can describe every situation one will encounter, building a solid understanding of the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ and adapting the guidelines to a version appropriate to our specific context, served us in most cases. This, coupled with a spirit of continuous reflection through the research process, enabled us to spot any danger early on and to move forward with increased self-vigilance when engaging with all involved parties.

 

Bibliography

 

British Psychological Society, 2017. Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/ethics-guidelines-internet-mediated-research-2017. [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Capstick, A., 2012. Participatory Video and Situated Ethics: Avoiding Disablism. In: E-J. Milne, C. Mitchell and N. de Lange, ed. The Handbook of Participatory Video. Lanham MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 269-281.

Denscombe, M., 2010. Research Ethics: A practical guide. In: The Good Research Guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 329-342.

Padan, Y., 2015. Asking Questions. Practising ethics guides to built environment research Series. The Bartlett Ethics Commission. Available at: https://www.practisingethics.org/project [Online] [Accessed 5 May 2021].

Singal, N., 2010. Doing disability research in a Southern context: challenges and possibilities. Disability & Society, 25(4), pp. 415-426.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.

What is the role of gender in Spatial Data Infrastructure?

By Sandra Rodriguez Castaneda, on 20 July 2021

This blog is adapted from an essay submission for the MSc Urban Development Planning module ‘The City and its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development’


Introduction

Is land a source for gender equality? “Perhaps the most significant pro-poor urban transformation of the late twentieth century had to do with the gains of the feminist movement and the emergence of gender-based planning” (Parnell, p.27, 2015). , However, there is still a long way to go before women have an equal role in cities and rural areas. In the case of land, it is fundamental to the development of women’s identity, wellbeing and mobility (Chant & Datu, 2015). It is acknowledged that good management of land is key addressing gendered concerns. However, how does gender figure in the technologies of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) that underlies good land management? Therefore, this post investigates how SDI is gendered and argues that this has consequences for land administrators seeking more equity.

There are multiple processes around the land in which the gender approach must be studied and taken into account. Generally, when talking about gender and land, it is often based on the reformulation of policies around women´s right to access land, land distribution and titling programmes. What this tends to leave aside is how data is integrated to understand the relationship between land and women’s public-private roles. Additionally, land standards are applied to define guidelines but they tend to miss the intersectionality of gendered social relations, and methodologies for assessing indicators around land use and tenure do not reflect women’s real participation.

Despite the fact that the SDI seeks to facilitate and improve processes and decisions around land, the technological and modern component does not resolve the question of the role of gender in its understanding and comprehension.

I argue for the need to have a holistic vision to generate knowledge and cooperation to understand the role of gender in spatial data. Therefore, the tools developed to support land management should be understood under a differential and gender inclusionary approach.

 

Why is this argument important?

In this section, two examples will be explored to provide evidence why this argument is different and important. The first example is based on the fact that SDI is a technological component intended to facilitate decision making around land and productivity. Therefore, its focus is on capturing spatial information, and it does not have an explicit differentiating approach that considers social roles that make up land relations. The second example is based on evidence of the current situation of the relationship between women and land, and it is argued that the specific needs of women are not clearly understood, and so discrimination that replicates colonising models continues to exist.

According to Coleman and McLaughlin (1998, p.9), SDI “encompasses the policies, technologies, standards and human resources necessary for the effective collection, management, access, delivery and utilisation of geospatial data in a global community”. Definitions such as these suggest that the main objective of SDI is based on effectiveness, while the social component is limited to human resources and the use of data in the community. Rajabifard and Williamson (2003, p.3) note that, “SDI is much more than data and goes far beyond surveying and mapping, it provides an environment within which organisations and/or nations interact with technologies to foster activities for using, managing and producing geographic data”. However, even in this wider view, SDI as a social approach remains very much implicit in thinking about how SDI can be an enabling tool for organisations and nations.

In this light, what kind of data should be generated to understand social roles and especially women’s roles? This first example shows, through the most cited definitions of SDI above, that raising the question around the role of women in this technological tool is significant. As an additional element, it is also worth noting that inherent in technology itself is a complex language that is often based on strategic and rational concepts that leave aside social components (Cohn, 1987). Therefore, technology could become a gender-unequal tool despite being conceived to be gender-neutral if there is not a broader approach and understanding. We are in search of more socially and spatially just cities, so it is valuable to think about using the technological tools that support decisions about land to generate a more inclusive vision.

The role of women has been affected by sexist and colonising models that have limited their access to land. Throughout history, the subordination of women in society, based on a patriarchal structure, has been in evidence. Also, it is assumed that housing policies affect men and women equally when it is evident that there is discrimination against women (Borja & Castells, 1997).  As a result, it is essential to understand that there are socially constructed roles of women in the household and society: productive, reproductive, community managing and politics (Levy, 2009) that must be understood from a diverse perspective and taking into account the context and identity characteristics of each woman (age, religion, ethnicity). Accordingly, it is valuable to ask how this is reflected in the capture of information, in the standards implemented, in data analysis policies and in land governance in general.

According to FAO (2018, p.1), “Reliable, sex-disaggregated data on land is crucial for highlighting disparities in land rights between women and men. (…) there is still a lack of understanding as to what data are available and needed, and what they can tell us about women’s land rights”. This shows that there is still some way to go in understanding the role of women and the discrimination they face in relation to land rights. Given that SDI is an important part of land administration it will be important to work on how the inclusion and protection of women’s land rights can be enhanced through technology.

 

Conclusion and final discussion

This post presents an essential question in the context of SDI and gender equity. The framing of the question outlines a new challenge that combines the rational understanding of technology, the social dynamics around the land, the recognition of women’s real needs and the use of spatial tools. Consequently, technology should not be seen as a sole means of efficiency and productivity but also of inclusion.

Among the challenges that this question implies are to generate a holistic and decolonising vision that helps breaking with stereotypes and exclusionary models that are reflected in women’s lack of access to land, in the absence of protection of their rights, and the lack of representation and participation in decision-making related to land administration. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand that the relationship between women and land is complex and requires recognition of their roles in the public and private sphere. This will lead to the identification of the different entry points that need to be studied in order to find effective solutions according to time, scale and space.

Finally, “prosperity is not an inevitable outcome of urbanisation, and in the absence of appropriate management, cities can become sinkholes of poverty and inequality” (Chant & Datu,2015, p.40). Therefore, raising the question of the role of women in SDI shows that it is not enough to have efficient geographical tools; their appropriate use and management is fundamental to fight against poverty and inequality. Thus, the pressure of globalisation and the search for productivity need to be oriented to create new questions that confront the status quo and do not blind the construction of inclusive policies and strategies.

 

 

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Chant, S, & Datu, K. (2015). Women in Cities: Prosperity or Poverty? A Need for Multi-dimensional and Multi-spatial Analysis. In The City in Urban Poverty (EADI Global Development Series, pp. 39-63). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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Sandra Esperanza Rodriguez Castañeda is undertaking her Master’s degree in Urban Development Planning at the University College of London. As a civil engineer, she has worked and led projects related to geomatics, geographical information systems, cadastre, and transport.

No Man is an Island

By Ruochan Liu, on 16 July 2021

Written by Ruochan Liu, Rachel Cobbinah, Di Hu, Celine Sola Gracia Lumban Gaol, Bayu Laksono Jati, Yuan Meng, Meerim Osmonalieva, Ricca Padyansari, Amich Kemala Damariyan, Nuzula Firda Sa’adhati, Xinran Zou

This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

——John Donne, MEDITATION XVII

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

“Us”

I was wearing several layers under my hoodie when we had our first group meeting. Two seasons later, the rest of us have finally caught up with Giligan’s everlasting summer and our outfits for Zoom finally look like we’ve got the same memo.

We begin this blogpost with this anecdote because upon reflection, this is perfectly symbolic of our experience as a group throughout this Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE). We set off on completely different pages, coming from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds with multiple understandings of disability research. Synchronization of workflow happens incrementally in much the same way as snowmelt precedes the budding green, and greenness is prologue to blossom. Effective communication and healthy dynamics within the group are hard-won fruits. Despite all the bad internet connections, lengthy video calls, long debates about every single detail of our methodology, we end up appreciating each other more than ever. We realized that this inseparable unit of like-minded researchers-to-be cannot function without the presence of every single member as part of the sum. For those of us from UCL, our lack of proficiency in Bahasa results in a heavy reliance on our UCA members as they make sure no data is lost in translation. For our UCA members, they are also gaining new experiences and knowledge on social rights, citizenship, inclusivity as well as empowerment, which help them as they interview our research participants. We become each other’s remedies, attending to our vulnerabilities, insecurities and frustrations through the whirlwinds of unexpectedness. We challenge each other on the falsity of our assumptions. We interrogate, together, each other’s takeaways from interviews. We scrutinize the language we’d use in interviews and discussions. We, as a team, have worked as a continent of pieces.

 

“Them”

Our research diary entries are an intriguing read as we approach the end of OPE. We as a team have reached the consensus that our anticipation of disability research as students of urban planning and social development are significantly overturned. Research processes are much more complicated and nuanced. Working with people involves getting knee-deep into their daily experiences and acknowledging that they are complex beings full of intentions, struggles, strength and hopes. It is about building foundations of trust and rapport with gestures of mutual respect. It is about learning and producing knowledge on equal grounds. It is a practice of patience and resilience. The time spent sitting in classes and reading journal articles are only meaningful after fighting tooth and nail to bite into the realities. We, as students, have to sail off from our islands of books. It is then we will see how it is only one part of the main, and our islands are connected to millions of heartbeats.

 

“We”

The words in bold have emerged out of our reflective discussions. We collated them before sitting down to write this post, and it is only now we notice how they can encapsulate almost everything our research participants have said in the course of OPE. Community engagement, active participation and inclusive public spaces will be hard-won fruits. It needs bold and assured experimentation of new ways of working, the understanding of vulnerabilities in the most diverse ways, and constant outreach to the unheard and unnoticed. There needs to be a genuine respect of people’s complicated realities. Anyone who is interested to work towards promoting inclusive planning for people with disabilities must be prepared to fight a long battle.

 

There is really no such a binary between “us” and “them”.

It is time to start working as “We”, for no man is an island entire of itself.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

 The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.