The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Indefensible Space

The aim of this project is to highlight the problems and strategies related to gender-based violence faced by women in slums because of lack of secure and dignified access to toilets.

Indefensible Space


The aim of this project is to highlight the problems and strategies related to gender-based violence faced by women in slums because of lack of secure and dignified access to toilets. This can be either because they have to relieve themselves in public in the absence of toilets, or because the location, physical access or design of communal toilets is insecure. This situation is often under-recognised by health professionals and by engineers, planners and designers. 

The project objectives are:

  1. To raise awareness amongst community leaders, health care providers, law enforcement 
officials, engineers, urban planners and designers of the experienced and perceived threats 
of violence faced by women because of lack of secure and dignified access to toilets in slums.
  2. To explore community-led strategies in place to address the experienced and perceived 
threat of violence faced by women because of lack of secure and dignified access to toilets in slums. 

Project Team


Dharavi is among the world’s most visible informal settlements. With an estimated population of 750,000, it exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a housing solution for the urban poor. It has a thriving – largely informal – economy, established community structures, reasonable access to metered electricity and an increasingly educated populace. Nevertheless, only about 10% of households have a private toilet. The background to this is not entirely financial and includes the need to optimise the use of space in a hyper-dense living environment, and the complexities of solid and liquid waste management. 

SNEHA have been working on prevention of violence against women and children since 2000. Headed by Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, the programme aims to develop high‐impact strategies for primary prevention, ensure survivors’ access to protection and justice, empower women to claim their rights, mobilise communities around ‘zero tolerance for violence’, and respond to the needs and rights of excluded and neglected groups. The programme prioritises enhanced coordination of the state response to crimes against women through a convergence approach that works with government and public systems to reinforce their role in assuring basic social, civil and economic security. Primary preventive interventions are carried out through community outreach programs and campaigns. Secondary interventions for survivors of violence are provided through a comprehensive service- oriented system.

Project Outputs

To date, Indefensible Space has produced four outputs

1. A literature review on the topic of gender-based violence and sanitation.

This informed the production of the film and discussion in subsequent public events.

2. The production of a participatory film exploring the issues of gender-based violence and sanitation.

Directed by Manish Sharma of Becoming Cinema, community members attended a series of workshops which began with discussions on gender-based violence and access to toilets. The workshops also involved activists and experts, and communities members were trained in the use of camera. Participating community members went out to capture images and interview people, including municipal representatives. Subsequently film rushes were shared and discussed. A film of approximately 20 minutes was produced.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lyTVlZMjL4


3. A screening and event at the Dharavi Biennale.

The Indefensible Space film was screened on 19 February 2015 as part of the Dharavi Biennale for an audience of approximate 400 people at the District Sports Complex Hall. The audience included people from Dharavi, international visitors to the Dharavi Biennale, and members from other NGOs. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Nayreen Daruwalla. The panel members were Manish Sharma, David Osrin, Paromita Vohra (award-winning filmmaker and writer who made the film Q2P about Mumbai women’s experiences of using public toilets), Seema Redkar (Officer on Special Duty, Solid Waste Management Department, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), Mumtaz Shaikh (Executive President, Mahila Mandal Federation, a collection of grassroots groups comprising more than 10,000 women, and director of the Right to Pee campaign), and Susha Mary (Community Organiser with the SNEHA programme on Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, and participant filmmaker for Indefensible Space).

Using a similar approach to the Dekha Undekha (Seen Unseen) Wellcome Trust project, the Dharavi Biennale aims to highlight health issues in Dharavi through the use of the creative arts (http://dharavibiennale.wordpress.com/). It builds on a series of art workshops – Artboxes - each of which focuses on a health theme and uses recycled materials as much as possible. It involves artists from inside and outside Dharavi, working together on challenging questions and producing ambitious works of art.

4. A colloquium at UCL, London at which the film was screened.

The film was screened at a half-day colloquium on 24th March 2015 in UCL After the screening, the following speakers participated in the colloquium (in order of speaking): Nayreen Daruwalla (SNEHA, India) on the "Direction of Mumbai activities for the SNEHA Programme on Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children"; Géraud de Ville (ProjectCOBRA) in conversation with David Osrin (UCL IGH) about participatory film making; Colin McFarlane (University of Durham) on “The Everyday Life of Sanitation: Informal Settlements, Poverty and Learning in Mumbai; Prate Parikh (CEGE, UCL) on "Infrastructure, Gender and Poverty in Indian slums"; and summing up comments by Julian Walker (Director MSc Social Development Practice, UCL DPU). Caren Levy (UCL DPU) chaired the half day event which was attended by approximately 65 people from both inside and outside UCL.

A blog post was put out to stimulate discussion about topic and the film.

The film will be used in community-based mobilisation in Mumbai, and in teaching and training programmes in UCL and beyond.

Caren Levy also discusses the research in our DPU Podcast: https://www.mixcloud.com/dpuucl/indefensible-space/