Hello! Wow, time has flown by and it seems like just yesterday myself and fellow CAPI intern with PRIA, Sidney, were arriving in Delhi to begin our internships in India. Feel free to listen to this podcast to hear Sidney ask me about my experiences, some challenges, and lessons I’ve learned working in India. It’s been a huge learning experience and am feeling grateful for all the fantastic people, experiences, and learnings from this time working with PRIA.
Before coming to intern in India, I had not heard very much about the issues and implications of open defecation in many parts of the world. Conversations about global issues of inequality and social justice, usually are centred around other basic human needs such as food, water and shelter and so on. Yet, the more that I’m learning about open defecation and its related issues the more I have realised what a crucial issue it is for the health, safety, and dignity of huge numbers of people around the world—particularly in India.
Although it’s important to also look beyond just the story numbers can tell, here are some quick facts about open defecation in this context:
– About 564 million people, just under half the population in India openly defecate
There are a variety of issues open defecation is linked to. Open defecation causes numerous sanitation and health problems such as diarrhoeal diseases and stunting to name a couple. In India, almost 400 children per day die from diarrhea linked to poor sanitation. In India almost 38% of children are stunted, which affects not only children’s physical development but also cognitive and often impacts their educational outcomes.Open defecation goes even further beyond the issue It is also very much so an issue of social justice, particularly from a gender perspective. For women and girls, safety is a major issue when having to go out to find space to openly defecate—often far away from their homes. Fears about safety and sexual harassment are rampant. In order to have more privacy, many prefer to go for open defecation when it is dark; yet this also makes it more unsafe for women and girls. Often women and girls describe practicing ways to try and minimize the number of times they must go for open defecation, yet this often results in dehydration from not drinking water or urinary tract infections to name a couple. Women and girls also need proper sanitation facilities that can also provide safety and hygiene during menstruation. Since menstruation is a topic that many are not comfortable talking about, often menstrual hygiene is left out of the conversation around toilets and health.
In India, there has been and currently are huge efforts by the government, NGOs, and community members themselves in order to tackle the issue of open defecation as well as overall sanitation in the country—sometimes with success, sometimes with not as much success. Right now, some are criticizing the current government’s “Clean India” campaign for lack of progress, yet it has brought a lot of resources as well as attention to the issue of sanitation and open defecation in particular.
In the development project I am currently working on, one of the indicators (of twenty) we are working with is “open defecation free” in every single Gram Panchayat (rural area). What has stuck with me is the lesson that something that can seem at first glance like an infrastructure problem, such as there being a lack of facilities to use, is in fact extremely complex and goes far beyond simple questions of infrastructure or financial resources.
Rather, to address open defecation means also addressing the interconnected issues as well. For instance, dealing with the issue of open defecation also means looking at economic situations, local social dynamics, access to water, sustainability, accountability, and much more. Other complexities for instance involve deeply embedded cultural beliefs and practices. For some older people, toilets may be strange and uncomfortable to use. There are also some cultural beliefs that may understand toilets as not being healthy or safe for certain people.
During the fieldwork I’ve been involved with through PRIA, we’ve interacted with numerous community members who identify open defecation and lack of toilets as major problems in their rural communities. Many of the individuals we meet with are frustrated by the lack of toilet facilities and tired of the health and social impacts of open defecation.
Addressing the issue of open defecation is not an easy task both globally and in India. To address the issue of open defecation through a framework that will ensure looking at the gendered aspects of open defecation and sanitation is even more of a challenge—yet is an essential part of looking at any issue and solution in order for all to experience positive change.
Through my internship here the more I learn, the more I have come to realise that access to sanitary facilities is something that every individual deserves to have. Globally, I think we need to continue to ask more questions and find more solutions as to how we can address open defecation in a sustainable way that will benefit the health and safety of millions.
Hi there! The last little while here in Southern India has involved a lot of different celebrations and holidays. In this little blog post I’m sharing some of my experiences and thoughts about some of the ones I’ve been lucky enough to come across while living and working in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It’s hard to do these kinds of occasions justice and of course I still have a ways to go in understanding and unpacking what many of these events mean and the diverse forms they take on. I’m also attaching some video footage from my neighbourhood’s Lord Ganesh procession which invovled lots of music and impressive dancing! Thanks for reading!
Public space, loitering, and feminist activism may seem like disjointed entities. So, it might be even more confusing for you, dear reader of this blog post, if I say that really what I’m talking about is all wound up in a chai stall.
Public Space, Loitering, and Feminist Activism
Yes, I am talking about the delightful chai carts that can be found on almost any corner in a busy Indian city. Served in wonderfully small cups, the delicious chai is made hot (a lesson I learned after burning my mouth the first time) and fresh through a complicated process of straining and boiling accompanied with an incredible aroma. Even in the limited spaces that chai stalls are set up, such as street corners or the side of a road, there is always a sense that a chai stall is a “hang-out” place. The one I stopped today had a few stools set up and newspapers to read while sipping on the heaven-in-a-cup that is a chai in India. Yet as a woman (and also a sociologist cursed with the habit of obsessively studying people) I can’t help but feel the gendered dynamics of the chai stalls I visit. There are exceptions of course, but in general a chai stall is a male-dominated space. The people sipping on chai while reading newspapers, chatting in circles, sitting on benches near the stall, are mostly men. This is a pattern not just limited to chai stalls. The public parks and sports fields are often a male held space. Cafes and restaurants and other kinds of food stalls are also highly gendered with the significant presence of men in comparison to women. Even out on the streets men often hold more space than women. Through my conversations with women here in India and my own experiences, the more I have become interested in the gendered dynamics of public space and how this is embedded in wider systems and forces in India. In this blog post I will describe some of the academic ideas on these topics in the context of India, highlight some of the feminist activism in India around public space, and include both my own and my friend’s thoughts. So, feel free to make yourself a chai, cozy up, and keep reading!
A public space historically has meant “open space” such as parks or sidewalks that are publically owned and managed spaces in opposition to private spaces such as the home. Yet, the social management of these ‘public’ spaces are often contested through dynamicssuch as class, race, or gender to name a few. In India, the conversation around public space and women is often linked to the lack safety of women in public spaces as well as connected to social norms and cultural values about gender. Interestingly, although they acknowledge that the safety of women in public space is a serious issue, writers of the book Why Loiter Phadke et al. (2011) argue that the way in which safety of women in public space is discussed is problematic. They argue that stressing safety without acknowledging the structural violence that makes safety a gendered issue is to turn a blind eye to the many dimensions at play. Furthermore, it also works to construct women as agentless victims who may end up ‘in the wrong place’ at the ‘wrong time’ and experience violence. The authors further discuss how although safety of women is key, it should not be used as a way to justify their lack of presence and engagement in public space. To do so, is to reproduce the same kinds gendered ideas that make public spaces more unsafe for women in the first place. The authors write that “most debates on public space are disproportionately focused on danger rather than pleasure…Pleasure or fun is seen as threatening because it fundamentally questions the idea that women’s presence in public space is acceptable only when they have a purpose” (Phadke et al., 2011).
So, this is where loitering is connected. The authors emphasize that loitering, such as hanging around a chai stall, can be a part of shifting from a politics of safety to a politics of pleasure. In this way, the public space can be re-claimed as a space of enjoyment for everyone and contest many ideas of what a woman can or cannot do. The authors describe how the “right to loiter has the potential to change the terms of negotiation in city public spaces and creating the possibility of a radically altered city, not just for women, but for everyone” (Phadke et al., 2011).
Discussions about public space and women takes place in both in the online and real world of India as well. Feminist activists in India have engaged with public space in a many inspiring ways. Inspired by Phadke et al.’s (2011) book Why Loiter women have used social media to take action by posting pictures of themselves in public spaces by using the hashtag #whyloiter and claim space both physically and online
In the online sphere, in 2012 following the horrific rape of a female student in Delhi after boarding a bus, a campaign called #Boardthebus aimed to create a public conversation around the safety of women and their right to public spaces. This trended online through its hashtag and raised awareness as well as solidarity for women’s “right to mobility and public spaces” (Eagle, 2015). This online activism was also coordinated with a call for women to ride public buses on March 8, 2014 (International Women’s Day) to take up more public space rather than less.
Other inspiring forms of activism have been organized by the group ‘Blank Noise’. Formed in 2002 to address street harassment in India, ‘Blank Noise’ uses activism, street experiments, and art in their campaigns. One of their interventions in public space is described by Gupta (2016):
A solemn line of ten men and women arranged themselves across a pedestrian signal on a crowded street in Bangalore, India. Red reflective tape formed English alphabets across their chests. When the traffic signal turned red we assembled on the zebra crossing staring back silently at waiting commuters. Together the letters on our chests spelt a question for onlookers to ponder: “Y R U LOOKING AT ME?” The signal turned green in some minutes and we dispersed, mingling with crowds on the sidewalk to disperse pamphlets about street sexual harassment.
To wrap things up, I’d like to share some words from my friend Sudha Samyukta reflecting on public space and gender in India:
We (Indian Women) live in a situation where we have accepted and institutionalized “gendering” of spaces. How else could a chai stall be a “space” only for men? Where else will I feel like an achievement going to one of these little chai stalls around the corner and feel like I have conquered something? Why do I even accept it within my head, that this particular “space” is not for me/other women? As I ponder, it makes me sad and angry at once. I feel an achievement when I enter the space, when I return, I wonder, in amazement at the way I have gendered a space. Women need to claim public spaces, reclaiming is a later stage. If we can ensure that a group of girls in their most comfortable clothes can walk around the cities without fearing for their safety even if they are not in a group, maybe we can start a discussion on reclaiming any lost space. At this stage, women don’t have a claim to any space whatsoever, forget the “male” spaces. I would however add that it is not just the corner chai stalls. Any public space, including the upper class spaces are not fully accepting of a woman. A woman that walks in alone is stared at, sized up and made to feel uncomfortable. Somehow, as a society we have not been able to make women feel safe, secure and contented. She is somehow uncomfortable and worried for herself, and that is acceptable. How else do you justify women only in groups, accompanied more often than not with male companions and seen only in the acceptable spaces which are not essentially “male” and definitely never alone?
Learning about the complexities of gender in India is a huge learning and unlearning process for me that will continue far beyond my internship. In both Canada and India, gender plays a powerful role in each of our lives whether we are aware of it or not. In both contexts, gender is deeply embedded within the unique social, economic, cultural, and historical forces at play. For me, gender has also become a way in which public space, feminist activism, and ‘loitering’ are intertwined as well as raises further questions. What kinds of lens am I biased with when looking at these issues based on my own culture and socialization? How does ‘loitering’ in public space operate in diverse cultural contexts? What are the impacts of feminist activism around public space in India? How do these actions affect how women and men feel about public space?
Ahh I think I’ll go ponder these questions with another cup of chai…
Bowles Eagle, R. (2015). Loitering, Lingering, Hashtagging: Women Reclaiming Public
Space Via# BoardtheBus,# StopStreetHarassment, and the# EverydaySexism Project. Feminist Media Studies, 15(2), 350-353.
Gupta, H. (2016). Taking Action: The Desiring Subjects of Neoliberal Feminism in India.
Journal of International Women’s Studies, 17(1), 152.
Phadke, S., Khan, S., & Ranade, S. (2011). Why loiter?: Women and risk on Mumbai streets.
Penguin Books India.
Hi there, I have now been working in the PRIA Visakhapatnam field office for almost a month now. Being in the field has brought a lot of new experiences and people my way. One of the biggest learning experiences so far for me has been through the field visits that I get to be a part of. I am very grateful to be able to visit Anandapuram Mandal and spend some time with its community members as part of our data collection. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to enter these communities and be able to hear people’s stories and be a part of community development processes through the work we are doing. In order to share what field experiences involve in Anandapuram Mandal as a part of PRIA’s work I’ve created a photo story to share (please see below).These pictures and words are limited in the way that they are through my lens and my positioning and therefore only show my perspective–only a very limited part of the wider story of the Mandal and community development. Yet, I hope by sharing my perspective I can share a bit of the privilege I have been given of entering the spaces I am and being part of the project in Anandapuram Mandal. Thanks for reading! Cheers, Kenda
Link to the photo story: http://arcg.is/2aTjeCn
Hello, Kenda here from New Delhi, India where I am interning with PRIA as a program assistant through CAPI. Here’s a podcast after my first month here with a little introduction to PRIA, the two projects I am working on and a few othe reflections from the beginning of my time here!
April 29, 2016
Malaysian Social Research Institute
Kenda Chang-Swanson Interview with Claire Horwood
Kenda interviews Claire about her upcoming Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives internship at the Malaysian Social Research Institute in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Here’s an introduction of myself through an interview by fellow intern Claire Horwood on April 29, 2016 in Victoria, BC. I will be interning from June-December with PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) through the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives. In this podcast Claire asks me a bit about my background, interests, what brought me to this upcoming internship, some things I look forward to and also hope to get out of this opportunity.