Infrastructure, Gender and Violence: Women and Slum Sanitation Inequalities in Delhi

Susan Esme Chaplin, Reetika Kalita

Academic and Action Research


In Delhi, as in many other Indian cities, millions of men, women and children who live in slums and informal settlements haveto daily confront the lack of adequate sanitation facilities. These sanitation inequalities have a greater impact on the health and socioeconomic status of women and girls because of their greater social vulnerability to sexual violence; there is also the role played by biology in their need for privacy, safety and cleanliness. Men and boys, on the other hand, tend to use public urinals and open defecation (OD) sites generally more frequently, because their need for privacy during these sanitation activities is not such a cause for concern. In addition, women and girls are forced every day to risk using precarious spaces for their sanitation activities that may expose them to gender-based violence and harassment and not satisfy their biological and socio-cultural needs. These urban sanitation inequalities also negatively impact the time women have available for paid employment as well as their daily domestic responsibilities, as they have to spend each morning queuing for toilets or getting up earlier to go with other women to OD sites. For adolescent girls this can often mean being late for school, which threatens their education and future life choices.

India failed to meet Millennium Development Goal No. 7 (adopted by the United Nations in 2000) relating to halving the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation. In terms of toilet usage across India, the Census 2011 found that 81 percent of urban households had a private toilet or latrine. But when it came to slum households, only 66 percent had a toilet, meaning that 34 percent had to either use a community or public toilet or resort to OD (Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation & National Buildings Organisations 2013, p. 60). In reality, there are an estimated 41 million urban dwellers still practising OD because of a lack of access to improved sanitation (WaterAid 2016). OD is a compulsion, not a choice, and creates particular risks and imposes a variety of harms upon women and children that men and boys do not suffer.

Who or what is responsible for such socioeconomic consequences of the lack of adequate sanitation infrastructure in Indian cities which perpetuate gender inequalities? How do harms like gender-based violence impact the everyday lives of women and girls living in slums in particular? This project report examines these issues using the notion of infrastructural violence and then examines the harms and suffering caused by a lack of sanitation infrastructure in two long-established localities in Delhi: Mangolpuri and Kusumpur Pahari. Mangolpuri is a resettlement colony in the northwest region of Delhi with an estimated population of more than 350,000. It is interspersed with eight JJCs clusters of varying sizes. Kusumpur Pahari is located in the heart of south Delhi, near Jawaharlal Nehru University, and now has five blocks of JJCs and an estimated population of nearly 50,000.