Gender Based Insecurity and Mobility in Cities

This project, funded by and in partnership with Concern Worldwide, will proceed in two phases. This first phase consists of qualitative research in the three cities of Dhaka, Addis Ababa and Port-au-Prince to learn more about the gender based violence and perceptions of insecurity faced by the urban poor and the impacts on their lives. The second phase will consist of surveys in these three cities to measure this impact. The work has just begun! Please stay tuned for updates, photos and blog entries from our team in the field.



Journal I: Assessing Insecurity in Dhaka's Slums?

The street was already flooded when we arrived at the Pavement Dweller Center in southern Dhaka at 9 am. Throughout the following three hours we spent talking with a group of women from a nearby slum, we kept a watchful eye on the road as heavy rain pounded the metal roof above us. As our discussion came to an end, we realized we had to leave, already fearful that we might have waited too long and our van would flood on the hour-long ride back to the hotel.

So we left early. We collected our things, said thank you to our hosts and the women who spent the morning with us, and splashed into the van. We sacrificed lunch and lost our afternoon key informant interview, but we made it back to the hotel safely. This is the exact type of risk analysis we are researching in Dhaka, except our focus is on gender-based insecurity in slum areas.

Bangladesh is the first of three countries we are visiting in collaboration with Concern Worldwide. We are using a mix of traditional and art-based qualitative methods to understand the types of violence women, children, and men experience in slums, the ways in which they cope with that violence, and how the threat of violence impacts their lives.

Women overall felt there was no place where they are safe. They described a wide range of physical and mental violence they experience on a daily basis, from eve teasing and online bullying to rape and murder. Men largely focused on the threat of armed robbery. All felt largely helpless to respond directly, as that would risk an escalation of violence, or seek assistance from others, like the police, because of their weak position in society.

From Bangladesh, we head to Ethiopia and then Haiti later in the fall.

Journal II: Adapting Our Approach in Addis Ababa

This qualitative research on gender-based insecurity and mobility is trying to understand three things: the things that make people living in slums afraid; the ways they cope with those fears; and the impact of using those strategies on their lives. In Bangladesh and Ethiopia, we have had to adjust both our language and methods to capture these as some, particularly the third point, have proven elusive.

During data collection in Addis Ababa, we were reminded of how much language and translation matter. While our research team understands the terms security and insecurity to mean certain things in the context of this study, we found that these words connote drastically different things for some community members, including large scale conflicts and political discord. Since we are only interested in insecurity caused by other individuals, we revised our language to focus on personal safety and the things that make people feel afraid. These changes helped focus the interviews on the research subject, but there were times when we still had to clarify that we were not interested in talking about broader security concerns in Ethiopia.

Similar to Dhaka, we also struggled with finding the right way to get participants to talk about the impact insecurity has on their mobility, including access to school, health centers, the market, etc. This challenge seemed to be about the words we used, but also a conceptual barrier that community members struggled to move beyond. It was clear the questionnaires and methods we had developed were not working. So we tried something new with our final focus group with young men and women. Rather than asking community members what safety concerns they have in their neighborhood, we started the discussion with how those issues affect the key spheres of their lives: work, health, education, family, social activities, etc.

Finally, we experimented with new method and created a thematic map with the areas of life impacted by insecurity surrounding the safety concerns themselves. We split the group of participants into two groups – one of men and the other of women. Participants were then asked to select the sphere(s) where they felt the biggest impact by adding three marks to the map. These could be all placed on one of the spheres or spread out across two or three. From there, the groups explained their own choices as well as analyzed those of their counterparts. While this still wasn’t perfect in targeting the exact information we were hoping for, we learned new things about this community and will repeat this approach in our final field site, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.