Infrastructure of Insecurity: women's experiences of sanitation in urban India's informal settlements

Authors: Kathleen O'Reilly*, Texas A&M University
Topics: Gender, Cultural and Political Ecology, Development
Keywords: Sanitation, gender, India, open defecation, security
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The problem of open defecation in India has attracted much attention, but research focusing on the provision of urban sanitation infrastructure often overlooks the social marginalization that infrastructure represents. This paper explores how sanitation infrastructure reproduces gender inequalities, in part because it is imagined as a neutral space. The paper draws on research in Pune and Jaipur (India) in informal settlements, where a variety of sanitation infrastructure has been built and rejected by users. It offers evidence of slum-dwelling women’s experiences of harassment and violence related to inadequate facilities. In addition, it explores the strategies that women adopt to minimize risk and stress. An examination of experiences of sanitation-related violence against women shows the connections between slum geographies, the surrounding built environment, available sanitation infrastructure, and unequal intra-slum relationships (e.g., caste, religion, class). Intersecting identities shape women’s experiences of sanitation-related violence, and affect women's ability to meet their sanitation and hygiene needs. While urban sanitation in Pune and Jaipur does not meet women’s needs across all castes, the chances of collective action to address sanitation needs are compromised by tensions between groups in the slums. Additionally, the threat of resettlement weakens the ability of communities to demand sanitation services from urban governments. Drawing these threads together, sanitation infrastructure is shown to represent gender inequalities, caste tensions, and experiences of powerlessness of the urban poor.

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