Water, Power, and Gender: Interrogating Development in the Slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Hooper, Laura Beth
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Urban migratory trends represent one of the most significant challenges for modern international development. For, in the context of weak state capacity, urban migrants often funnel directly into slums—densely populated urban settlements whose complex internal dynamics render them inscrutable to government bodies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). I argue that effective development requires that project designers understand the nuanced complexity of the power networks organizing slum-dwellers’ lives. In order to demonstrate this, I focus on processes of water acquisition in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. After first exploring the gendered, social nature of water-related deprivations, I identify and analyze the primary strategic approaches to development employed by NGOs and the government of Bangladesh. This acts as the foundation for my analysis of power dispersion in Dhaka’s slums, where processes of water acquisition force slum dwellers to navigate complex axes of identity-creation. I focus specifically on gender as a means of better understanding the simultaneously individualized and culturally situated process of power navigation in the slum context. I conclude with broader recommendations for NGOs seeking to undertake development in urban settings.

Bangladesh., Gender., Power., Participatory resource management., Water., Urban development., Slums.