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How and in what ways can local-level risk information about health and disasters influence city government practices and policies?

Cassidy AJohnson28 February 2019

This blog is the fourth of the health in urban development blog series. View also:

Treat, contain, repeat: key links between water supply, sanitation and urban health
By Pascale Hofmann

Health in secondary urban centres: Insights from Karonga, Malawi
By Don Brown

Gaza: Cage Politics, Violence and Health
By Haim Yacobi

 

If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.

 

Over the last few years there have been several initiatives to develop practical and policy-relevant ways to measure environmental risks faced by low-income groups. This has been in response to a severe lack of information about disaster and health risks available for policy makers to draw on in most low- and middle-income nations. There is a need for both detailed settlement-level data, particularly for informal settlements, as well as for aggregated data needed to inform city-level or national interventions[i]. In this blog, I discuss innovative methodologies that are being developed in cities of the Global South to generate much needed data for action.

Innovative methodologies for understanding health and disaster risks at the urban scale

Innovative methods developed for understanding and measuring these risks range from profiling and mapping informal settlements with community-led or co-production approaches, to detailed analysis of hospital, police and newspaper records. Other methods seek to build consensus based on perceptions and experiences of risk with communities and local governments. DesInventar is a collection of national, regional and city-level databases, which use newspaper reports, as well as police, hospital and accident records to create a detailed portrait of both large or intensive disasters and small-scale extensive disaster events. Other methodologies such as Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) settlement profiling and Action at the Frontline use community-generated information about resident’s experiences of health and disaster risks in order to enter into dialogue with municipal governments about their needs. ReMapRisk uses community-generated risk information and offers a spatial analysis with maps to interrogate and visualise the information, there are maps for Lima (Peru), Karonga (Malawi) and Freetown (Sierra Leone).  Other approaches, such CityRAP, The City Resilience Index and 10 Essentials for Making Cities Resilient focus on the municipal government’s perspectives of risks and capacities for addressing risk at the city-level, and often in dialogue with communities.

 

Health and disaster risks faced by the urban poor

These studies have found that women, men and children living in informal settlements are disproportionally exposed to small and large-scale disaster risks such as flooding, landslides and fires, as well as everyday risks, such as water borne illnesses and poor air quality. For example, the AXA-funded research I have been involved in in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, used Action at the Frontline methodology, with household surveys, focus groups and action planning Mtambani settlement in Ilala municipality and Bonde la Mpunga settlement in Kinondoni municipality[ii]. The communities identified crime, poor solid management, lack of storm-water drainage infrastructure, lack of wastewater and toilet infrastructure, lack of basic health services and hospitals, flooding, high living costs and drug abuse as the main issues in their settlements. Many of these are directly related to health problems, such as malaria, diarrheal disease and personal safety. While big disasters, such a major floods, earthquakes, tsunami and windstorms do affect the health and welfare of millions across the globe every year, it is actually the smaller events and everyday risks that impact the greatest number of people’s health and well-being.

 

These different methods of understanding risks have been employed in close partnerships between researchers, community organisations, municipal authorities and other research users in many cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. While there are many innovative initiatives for understanding and measuring risks, the data still remains extremely patchy and limited in scope. Furthermore, and its uptake into municipal government operations and planning is not guaranteed.

 

Principles for the uptake of risk information in urban planning and policy making

Through the Urban Africa Risk Knowledge programme[iii], researchers have identified some principles related to the uptake of local-level risk information into planning and policy making: 1) It is important not just to provide the type of information that are assumed to be useful, but to work closely with partners in identifying data that will be useful for policy and practice[iv]. 2) The community-driven process can be more conducive to driving change in practice and policy in local government than expert-driven data. The use of local knowledge that comes through communities collaborating with local level decision-makers can capture the qualitative experiences of risks and measure the burdens arising from these risks, while enabling communities to engage with local governments/state about their needs[v]. 3) Small steps at collecting local data that are ‘good-enough’ can be valuable in the beginning.[vi] 4) Project-based risk measurement initiatives are rarely enough to make a difference in government practices and policies. What is required is long-term and sustained engagement with information that is regularly updated. 5) Improving official data collection, such as census, vital registration systems and healthcare records will be necessary to systematically address disaster and health risks in informal settlements[vii].

 

Many cities in low- and middle- income countries, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have functioning local governments, they lack a metropolitan structure or their resources are too meagre to take on new initiatives. While some progress has been made in developing methodologies that help us to better understand the everyday and small-scale disaster risks that underpin women’s, men’s and children’s health in informal settlement, there is still much more to do to scale up these initiatives and to enable local governments to take actions to address risks.

 

References

[i] Satterthwaite, D and Sverdlik, A (2018). Assessing health risks in informal settlements in sub-Saharan African cities. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No. 10. June 2018. Available from: https://www.urbanark.org/assessing-health-risks-informal-settlements-sub-saharan-african-cities

[ii] Osuteye, E. at al. (2018). Communicating risk from the frontline: projecting community voices into disaster risk management policies across scales. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No. 19. October 2018. Available from:

[iii] See www.urbanark.org

[iv] Dodman, D., Leck, H. and F. Taylor (2017). Applying multiple methods to understand and address urban risk. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No. 7. July 2017. Available from: https://www.urbanark.org/applying-multiple-methods-understand-and-address-urban-risk

[v] Osuteye, E. at al. (2018). Communicating risk from the frontline: projecting community voices into disaster risk management policies across scales. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No. 19. October 2018. Available from: https://www.urbanark.org/communicating-risk-frontline-projecting-community-voices-disaster-risk-management-policies-across

[vi] Spaliviero, M. at al. (2019). Urban Resilience building in fast-growing African Cities. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No. 20, January 2019. Available from: https://www.urbanark.org/urban-resilience-building-fast-growing-african-cities

[vii][vii] Adelekan, I.O. and D. Satterthwaite (2019). Filling the data gaps on everyday and disaster risks in cities: The case of Ibadan. Urban Africa Risk Knowledge Briefing, No 22. January 2019. Available from: https://www.urbanark.org/filling-data-gaps-every-day-and-disaster-risks-cities-case-ibadan

Treat, contain, repeat: key links between water supply, sanitation and urban health

PascaleHofmann14 January 2019

This blog is the third of the health in urban development blog series. View also:

Health in secondary urban centres: Insights from Karonga, Malawi
By Don Brown

Gaza: Cage Politics, Violence and Health
By Haim Yacobi

If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.

 

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s main economic and administrative centre, high population densities, the accumulation of informal lower-income residents, lack of access to clean water and poor sanitary conditions have been associated with a range of water and sanitation-related diseases. Cholera outbreaks are a frequent occurrence during the rainy season and some settlements in the city are among the worst affected in the country. In this context, I argue that urban water poverty needs to be tackled using a proactive rather than reactive approach at the local level to yield long-lasting health benefits.

Main access road in an informal settlement in Dar es Salaam after an episode of heavy rainfall (Photo © P. Hofmann, 2015)

 

Tackling urban water poverty and community health promotion

Internationally, the link between urban water poverty – i.e. inadequate access to water supply and sanitation facilities, and public health – is widely recognised whereby improvements in accessing water and sanitation are deemed crucial in tackling a diverse range of diseases and improving the lives of the poor.

Such thinking calls for integrated and consistent approaches, which, as emphasised by a UNICEF WASH specialist in Tanzania are evidently lacking in most policy-driven practices on the ground.

“Hygiene and sanitation awareness, behaviour change, communication and empowerment are maybe done in urban areas but erratically, not systematically. When the rains are coming and there is threat of cholera etc. then you will find people will announce:  ‘food vendors cover properly your food and make sure it is hot and whatever, please clean your surroundings, no solid waste should be seen and liquid waste, please drain it out completely’ etc. […] or there is a cholera outbreak in a certain locality in Dar es Salaam and it is feared that it might spread, so that happens but on a regular basis there is not a lot done” (quote from UNICEF WASH specialist).

During the recent cholera outbreak in 2015 government spending increased significantly to treat the affected population. While curative measures are vital, efforts to improve water supply and sanitation constitute essential steps towards future outbreaks. Similarly, some municipalities in Dar es Salaam have put continuous support into household fumigation programmes to impede the spread of malaria but fall short of investing in preventative measures to keep people healthy – i.e. reduce mosquito breeding sites through the provision of safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene. Currently, the onus is predominantly on residents themselves to be pre-emptive in their everyday practices with regards to potential health implications but not everybody is equally aware or shares the same ability to act. In the absence of sufficient government action, those who can have invested in better access to water, improved sanitation facilities and even flood defences.

Drainage channel built by two neighbouring households to divert water from the Msimbazi river, which carries wastewater from nearby wastewater stabilisation ponds (Photo © P. Hofmann, 2015)

 

“In 2011 there was flooding and we lost our livestock and we had to start afresh. What actually happened is there has been increased silt in the Msimbazi river. At the same time, there is wastewater that comes from the ponds and where these meet, that impact pushes the water towards our land. […] we constructed this drainage channel jointly with my neighbour after the flooding to try and divert the water from coming in” (quote from a resident in an informal settlement in Dar es Salaam).

The need for a proactive, decentralised approach

Ward health officers are officially tasked with preventing water-related diseases and promoting environmental health in their jurisdiction through regular water quality tests at local water supply schemes and inspections of businesses and households with no equivalent paid staff at sub-ward level. However, with limited resources at ward level much of the action regarding water supply, sanitation and environmental health depends on voluntary efforts in the communities by residents themselves and facilitated through sub-ward committees, water committees and community representatives. Many health officers at the ward level understand the importance of sanitation, drainage and safely-managed water supply but struggle to influence the agenda at higher levels of government. The Decentralisation by Devolution Policy introduced in the 1990s transferred responsibilities to local government for service improvements but without fiscal decentralisation or devolution of decision-making power. Decentralisation should pave the way for bottom-up participatory planning processes but municipalities in Dar es Salaam focus on central government priorities while continuing to disregard lower levels of government and their efforts to address local challenges. Decentralised decision-making structures are therefore not a guarantee for more democratic processes.

The importance of engaging urban poor communities

To lower the burden of water and sanitation-related diseases, engagement of communities with the authorities (utility and municipal government) is crucial but often limited and slow. Until recently, one of Dar es Salaam’s municipalities prohibited low-income communities living near wastewater stabilisation ponds to use them for safe sewage disposal. A lengthy period of continuous interaction between the local community, the municipality and the utility, facilitated by a local NGO, eventually led to a pilot initiative that connects household toilets to the nearby ponds using simplified technology. This has reduced the number of pits being informally emptied during the rainy season and led to a safer and healthier environment for residents.

Inspection chambers of the simplified sewerage pilot in an informal settlement of Dar es Salaam (Photo © P. Hofmann, 2015)

The utility seems keen to replicate the scheme elsewhere in the city, which shows potential that policy-driven practices can be transformed, scaled up and institutionalised in ways that are more integrated and sensitive towards the needs of the urban poor if sufficient consideration is given to the scope for scaling up and sharing the benefits more equally within a settlement.

 

Pascale is a Lecturer at the Development Planning Unit, UCL, where she leads the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development Programme. Her current research is particularly concerned with the dialectics of urban water poverty, examining different policy-driven and everyday practices and their impact on everyday trajectories of the urban water poor. She is interested in generating knowledge towards developing feasible pathways out of urban water poverty.

The knot at the end of the rope: Violence, hope, and transformation in El Salvador and Mexico

ArianaMarkowitz11 December 2018

I spent an afternoon in August with a group of young men in a skate park on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador. The park was part of a larger recreational complex and more people drifted in as the hours passed. The day was stifling and even if shade in the park was limited, at least sometimes there was a breeze in the air, unlike inside the low-income housing blocks that ringed the park and the shacks that climbed up the surrounding streets, splintering into a labyrinth of dead-end alleys.

The young men in the skate park told me story after story about police and gang brutality. At one point I asked them to draw a picture of a place or a situation in which they felt unsafe, uncomfortable, or anxious and another place or situation where they felt the opposite. One person stared at a blank piece of paper for 10 minutes, unable to think of any time or place where he had ever felt safe. Another drew an imaginary safe place where there were no abuses of power, people interacted as equals, homes were dignified, and greenery was abundant. After leaving the park later that day, a taxi driver told me about almost joining a gang some 15 years earlier, but changing his mind at the last minute based on the somber regrets of someone who had decided to go through with it. Later that night on my way home, I saw a body on the street. No one stopped and when I slowed down to get a closer look, my car was almost hit from behind.

A drawing produced by one of the young men in the skate park. In his words, “What makes me feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or anxious is the police, corruption, murders, and interpersonal violence.”

This situation is part of what is driving Central Americans, especially from the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, to flee, seeking a better life or, in some cases, a life at all in the United States. More and more the migrants and displaced people are traveling in mass because most of their journey is through Mexico and the Mexican state has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness or inability to protect asylum seekers’ human rights, leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic people and cartel violence while they travel, often with babies and children in tow. The poor treatment of migrants and displaced people is an extension of the Mexican state’s similar unwillingness or inability to protect Mexican citizens’ human rights. Nearly 250,000 Mexicans have been killed in the last 10 years and there are more disappearances now in Mexico than there were under the dictatorships in South America, including the still unresolved case of 43 students disappearing in 2014, apparently at the hands of state security agents with assistance from organized criminal groups under the protection of military forces. Just like I saw in El Salvador, poverty in Mexico is both a driver and a result of violence, and decades of repeated abuses have corroded Mexicans’ confidence in each other and in their government. Several years ago when I was documenting police reform in Mexico, I was struck by how government insiders and partners recalled processes that were difficult but ultimately successful while outsiders saw failures and suspected conspiracies.

Amidst so much darkness, DPU’s Étienne von Bertrab has opted to look for light. A few years ago he began developing what is now Albora, an initiative that traces Mexico’s “geographies of hope” through identifying, studying, documenting, and showcasing transformative projects throughout the country. Spotlighting this work demonstrates the that there are other ways to develop, progress, and grow, ones in which no one mistakes violence for a solution, where access to water and other natural resources is universal, where citizens are informed and engaged, and where everyone strives for the greater good.

Luis Domínguez, an engineer working for Agua para Siempre, has dedicated decades of his life to assisting communities fight soil erosion and restore river basins in the impoverished Mixteca region.

One such project is Agua para Siempre (‘water forever’), established 30 years ago by a then young couple, who decided that they would defend and support their poorest compatriots. They landed in the Sierra Mixteca in the Mexican state of Puebla, an arid and fast-eroding area that had been and continued to be hollowed out because of migration to large Mexican cities and the United States. With time, the couple understood that access to water was fundamental to addressing poverty and migration, so they began to study pre-Hispanic methods for soil retention and cultivation and advocate for their re-adoption in surrounding communities. Today, their organization, Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social, AC (‘alternatives and social participation processes’), has 300 people and thousands of local partners who are seeing the fruits of their sustained efforts. Communities are beginning to have access to water all year for small-scale cultivation, animal husbandry, and human consumption, and hundreds of small cooperatives have begun to produce amaranth, a pre-Columbian pseudo-grain that, like quinoa, is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Reversing previous trends, migration is falling, as is child malnutrition, thanks to the inclusion of amaranth in local diets.

The search for transformative initiatives also brought the Albora team, which includes five DPU alumni, to Mexico City where a Mexican historian and novelist, his family, and a dozen others have formed the Brigada para Leer en Libertad (‘brigade to read in freedom’). The brigade has cultivated new readers through facilitating horizontal and informal access to authors, expanding the availability of books, and creating free places to read. So far, they have gifted or sold more than a million books at an affordable price to girls, boys, women, and men in a country where the high price of books makes bookstores elitist and inaccessible and public libraries are few. To that end, the brigade also establishes libraries, with a recent campaign resulting in the donation of nearly 70,000 books. These books have become the basis for carefully curated collections in formerly empty libraries in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The brigade promotes reading for pleasure but also as a political act—an essential step towards the full exercise of conscious citizenship.

Free public gatherings are central to the Brigada’s book fairs in which women, men and children engage in dialogues with authors about their work and about the Mexican political conjuncture and ways out of the crises.

These projects and others are harnessing the power of hope to fuel alternative visions of their society. They demonstrate the fundamental importance of restoring and cultivating hope, necessary for active citizenship, and united, powerful communities, not just in Mexico or El Salvador but everywhere where injustice and inequality construct blocks for us to stumble over. The projects challenge us to look beyond our cynicism and apathy.

Before I left the skate park in August, one young man told me that he was glad I had come. “Most people don’t come looking for us, and the people who do don’t listen to what we have to say,” he said. “I hope you’ve been able to hear us and that the stories of our lives help you do your work.”

To learn more about Albora and contribute to its crowdfunding campaign, active until Tuesday, 18 December and only funded if it reaches 100% of its goal, go here.

Ariana Markowitz is a PhD student at DPU researching how fear and trauma manifest and become defining characteristics of urban landscapes. Taking cues from this damage, especially in marginalized communities, she looks for alternative ways of repairing frayed social fabric and healing.

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

Rosa MSulley27 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.

Gender and sanitation: the hidden issue of gender-based violence

ChristopherYap11 March 2015

Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Kombo Ward in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Vingunguti settlement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

Access to safe, dignified and appropriate toilets and sanitation facilities is a basic right for women, men, boys and girls worldwide. However an estimated 2.5 billion people still do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities globally. This issue is most prevalent in the Global South, and in urban contexts a lack of appropriate sanitation facilities is a particular, commonplace condition of informal and unplanned settlements.

Sanitation in informal settlements

Lack of access to appropriate sanitation facilities is closely related to the complex reality of insecure living conditions facing informal urban inhabitants. Those living in ‘slums’ are often denied access to formal infrastructure due to their insecure tenure and livelihoods, and marginalised status within the city.

As a result, these citizens are forced to develop their own infrastructures for toilets and sanitation. Each solution, including communal, privately funded facilities, and pit latrines, comes with its own assemblage of risk, be it health or hygiene-related, environmental or social, or a combination of these.

The vast majority of toilets and sanitation facilities in informal settlements exist not in private homes, but in public spaces. The nature and degree of risk associated with these spaces reflects the broader social relations of power in the community. Central to this inequitable distribution of risk is the issue of gender inequality.

Image: Adriana Allen

Image: Adriana Allen

Gendered differences in use of public space

In many patriarchal societies, a public/private space dichotomy exists by which women’s access to public space is more restricted than men’s. Women’s mobility is restricted due to both time constraints associated with reproductive roles as well as ‘symbolic dimensions surrounding the ‘forbidden’ and ‘permitted’ use of spaces governed by patriarchal power relations and norms of female propriety.’ [1]

Gender-based violence is an expression of these unequal gender relations. It exists in a variety of forms, from physical abuse, assault and rape, to verbal insults and psychological trauma.

In this sense it might be understood as a response to perceived infractions of gendered ideologies (such as women moving freely in public spaces or earning more in a household than men). While the vast majority of gender-based violence is perpetrated by men against women, men and boys can also be victims. In Mumbai, for example, the practice of ‘eve-teasing’ is commonplace, with men targeting women with obscenities and in some instances throwing stones.

Women adapt to avoid risks – but where does the problem lie?

In informal settlements, women are often at greater risk of gender-based violence due to the lack of effective policing, and lack of access to formal recourse mechanisms, including the justice system itself. In many cases the onus is on women to alter their behaviour in order to avoid risk, rather than the perpetrators.

For example: WaterAid found that 94% of women they surveyed in Bhopal, India faced violence and harassment when going to defecate, and a third had been physically assaulted [2]. Communal toilets are often built near the peripheries of settlements, meaning that women are more vulnerable to assault, particularly at night and in areas with little or no public lighting.

The facilities themselves can be poorly maintained, unhygienic and lack privacy for women. These conditions drive the practice of open defecation in settlements, which increases the health risks to the community and further exposes women to violence amongst other risks.

The association between gender-based violence and toilet and sanitation facilities in informal settlements is only one manifestation of citywide injustices relating to gender, class, caste, and identity amongst others. Lack of access to adequate toilet and sanitation services can lead to an increased vulnerability to gender based violence in different forms.

Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

A right to safe and secure sanitation

Focusing on this issue makes it possible to identify ways of improving the everyday safety and well-being of women in informal settlements through better design and management of facilities. It also has the potential to confront the gendered ideologies driving the reproduction of risk and violence in informal settlements.

We must grasp the urgency of taking action to combat the disproportionately hostile experiences facing many women when accessing sanitation, particularly in informal settlements.

The realisation of the right to sanitation is a necessary but insufficient step towards addressing gendered inequalities, not least the elimination of violence against women. But it is only by recognising the daily challenges facing women around the world that we can begin to address them.

 

Indefensible Space: Gender based violence and sanitation in informal settlements

is a Project implemented by the DPU and the Institute of Child Health, UCL, and SNEHA, Mumbai and supported by the Institute for Global Health/UCL Grand Challenges.

On Tuesday 24th March practitioners and academics will host a half day Colloquium exploring the issues relating to gender-based violence facing women in slums; there will be a first London screening of a participatory film produced with slum communities in Dharavi, Mumbai as part of the Project. Read more about the project and book your place in the audience today.


Notes:

  1. Chant, S. and McIlwaine, C. (2013). “Gender, Urban Development and the Politics of Space”, 4 June 2013.
  2. WaterAid and National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (2013). Research on the DFID-supported IPAP programme in India in five states (unpublished).

Chris Yap is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Urban Development Planning. He has worked with a number of organisations including the International Institute of Environment and Development, London International Development Centre, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa, and Oxfam America on topics including the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, communal and collective land tenure options for low income groups, participatory budgeting in a post-disaster context, community led-mapping and urban agriculture.

Multiple Dimensions of Risk in Lima

ChristopherYap4 May 2014

Every year students from MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the Development Planning Unit embark on a fieldtrip to a country in the global South. Supported by prior research, the fieldwork synthesises hands-on experience with the skills, concepts, and theories of environmental justice for development.

This year the research aims to understand the relations between water, risk and urban development in Lima, Peru, and how environmental injustices are produced and can be addressed, by exploring scenarios and strategies embedded in the wider socio-political, economic and ecological processes, with the potential for transformative change.

Four case studies: Cantagallo, Barrios Altos, Jose Carlos Mariátegui and Huaycán were chosen with our local partners and offer unique readings of Lima.

The first days of fieldwork have started to reveal the complex structural conditions producing and reproducing social-spatial inequalities and precarious living conditions for citizens of Barrios Altos and Cantagallo in the centre of Lima.

A vacant plot in Cantagallo where the former residents accepted LAMSAC's offer of money to vacate the site immediately (c) Chris Yap

A vacant plot in Cantagallo where the former residents accepted LAMSAC’s offer of money to vacate the site immediately (c) Chris Yap

In Cantagallo, multiple groups, such as the indigenous Shipibo community, live in a high density settlement, directly on top of a former city dump-site. The entire district is marked for regeneration, and the community is engaged in long negotiations with the municipal authorities over their relocation. However the private company, LAMSAC, working in partnership with the municipality to manage the infrastructure megaproject, Via Parque Rimac, is also offering money to families to vacate their plots immediately. Some members of the community have already left their improvised properties, which were immediately demolished and the plots fenced off, to prevent others from taking their place.

For every family that vacates their plot during talks with the municipal authorities, the negotiating position of the remaining families is weakened. Those families that remain face a multitude of socio-environmental risks; unhygienic living conditions and tenure insecurity the most apparent.

In Barrios Altos, only a few hundred metres away from Cantagallo, residents face a different set of challenges and risks. The historic centre of Lima is characterised by its grand, dilapidated buildings. The current residents of the quintas – colonial-era buildings some of which have lived in the area for generations and others that are new to the district, face daily risks from unstable, unsafe structures, land trafficking and forced displacement.

 

Buildings at risk of collapse in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

Buildings at risk of collapse in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

The central location and cultural significance of the district and the quintas has attracted multiple actors with competing intentions for the area’s regeneration. Private sector developers and municipal agencies, such as ProLima, are being pushed to find new solutions for urban regeneration.

The displacement or relocation of residents from the grand buildings is followed by the barricading of the room or building, just as the vacant plots are fenced off across the river in Cantagallo.

A bricked-up former residence in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

A bricked-up former residence in Barrios Altos (c) Chris Yap

Meanwhile, many local private developers are building illegally, without permits, behind the UNESCO-protected facades of the quintas. But whilst the municipal authorities are aware of the problem, they lack the capacity to prevent the developments.

Of greater concern are the cases where private developers have forcibly evicted tenants, or cut water pipes to hasten the collapse of the already fragile buildings in order to acquire the land for development.

The complex reality generated by multiple actors with different interests, capacities, resources and priorities, and multi dimensional realities of risk, are manifested differently in each of the two sites, yet the residents face comparable challenges. Over the next two weeks, students will explore the nature of risk in each of the sites, and the strategies that residents and other stakeholders are adopting to challenge inequitable urban development.

A quinta where the water pipes were illegally cut, forcing the residents to leave and causing the structure to collapse. (c)  Chris Yap

A quinta where the water pipes were illegally cut, forcing the residents to leave and causing the structure to collapse. (c) Chris Yap