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  • Writer's pictureMallika Gupta

Gendered Policies of India: Swachh Bharat Mission (Part 2: Proposed Modifications)

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Gender Mainstreaming Policies:

The challenge of building safer toilets for women has captured the imagination of municipal authorities all over the world, who have tried to develop and implement complex frameworks. In the diverse context of India, this must not be about building ‘more’ but, by building more inclusivity into our policies. Gender-mainstreaming is the “(re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated into all policies at all levels and all stages, by the actors normally involved in policymaking.” The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality and close the gender gap. Here the word ‘gender’ includes a broader, more complex understanding of people, beyond the male-female binary, and includes equal rights for all genders. This will allow for the policies to overcome their androcentric nature which accepts the male norm and systematically disadvantages women and other genders, and thus, adequate amount of funds may be dedicated to the research, data collection and gender-centric strategies required to provide all with safe, accessible sanitation amenities.

Data Collection:

Another drawback of the current policies is the lack of data informing policy makers about the key concerns that women may have while accessing toilets, especially across urban contexts. For rapid data collection, private sector may be brought in through PPP contracts (mentioned in the SBM-U guidelines) and their learnings be implemented in the strategy plans. For example, in 2007, Kalpana Vishwanath, with Jagori Foundation in New Delhi, found that poor lighting, poor signage, abandoned places, and poor infrastructure contributed to women’s feelings of lack of safety in public spaces. Spaces were found to be safer for women when they were under constant activity, had variation in land use and thus reflected a diverse social mix. Using these learnings, she conceptualised ‘SafetiPin,’ an interactive mobile app which uses intelligent technology and crowd sourcing to gather data on the degree of safety of different public spaces. Users are able to conduct a simple safety audit by scoring social and physical infrastructure on a fixed scale which is analysed to provide critical data about the degree of safety, inclusivity and mobility of different spaces across the city. This data is shared with relevant stakeholders along with recommendations from experts.

Features of Safe Toilets:

While the mission includes numbers and budgets, no guidelines mandating certain urban, architectural or design standards are specified. For the construction of toilets that women may feel safe using, the following three features are essential.

Accessibility: Good accessibility is illustrated by multiple, well- planned ways to enter or exit a toilet complex which provides easy access to a large number of people and encourages regular use. Toilet entrances must be designed carefully, with an emphasis on infrastructural provisions such as availability of parking, maintenance of pavements and supported with adequate lighting to help build an integrated relationship with the street and not provide opportunity for prospective predators to conceal themselves.

High Visibility: Rooted in Jane Jacob’s idea of ‘eyes on the streets’ is the primary feature of safety- increasing visibility. Women are encouraged to use of public toilets when they are designed to be in the sight of a critical mass of people at all times. This includes the provision of lighting during the night and increased natural surveillance during the day, by reducing visual obstructions and monitoring the degree of enclosure surrounding the toilet complex.

Activity Generation and Programming: While new toilets should ideally be places in active spaces, street population around existing toilets can be increased using intelligent programming of activities such as vendors, pop-up play areas, dedicated walking tracks etc. so that there is a constant flow of different type of people surrounding the site, and unusual loitering by predators may be detected.

Maintenance and Management: In addition to the provision of all the spatial elements which cue the perception of safety, the upkeep of these elements is also essential. Deterioration and poor maintenance not all causes discomfort and difficulty in use, but is also indicative of greater tolerance of disorder. Broken lights, shattered windows, piles of solid or human waste etc. tend to tarnish the social character of the space and hence breed the feeling of vulnerability.

Features of Inclusive Toilets:

Guidelines for incorporating inclusivity include addressing the needs of breast feeding/menstruating women, a person accompanying children of the same/opposite gender, a person carrying heavy items in their hands, disabled or elderly people, safety of children, people of the third gender/non-conformists to name a few. Interventions thus, are not just related to the construction of the toilet, but also to intelligent use of IEC and awareness programmes for gender sensitisation and behavioural changes.


When our cities are consciously planned to legitimize the domestication of women, the city itself, creates physical and cultural barriers for women with strollers or young children, breast-feeding mothers, menstruating women, and women carrying out errands or returning late from work, among others. Through these insensitive enactments of men’s power over women, an innately gendered nature of public spaces in India can be observed, wherein the architectural arrangements of the space itself regulate and restrict women’s access to these spaces. In order to counter this bias and develop equitable, gender-inclusive cities, public spaces must be designed and equipped with sensitively designed facilities which cater to women’s safety and respond to their unique requirements for sanitation, caregiving, recreation and leisure.

Cover Art by Vishnu Vasudevan


  1. Phadke, Shilpa. "Gendered Usage of Public Spaces; A case study of Mumbai." In The Fear that Stalks, by Sarah Pilot and Lora Prabhu, 51-80. Zubaan Books, 2012.


  3. Johari, A. (2019, February 04). The Modi Years: How successful is the Swachh Bharat Mission or Clean India campaign? Retrieved January 31, 2021


  5. Purty, N, & Saith, R. (2020, November 18). India's Swachh Bharat Mission: How can toilet use be sustained? Retrieved January 31, 2021.


  7. Vishwanath, Kalpana Mehrotra, Surabhi Tandon. "‘Shall We Go Out?’ ; Women’s Safety in Public Spaces in Delhi." Economic and Political Weekly, April 28, 2007

  8. Jacobs, Jane. Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, USA: Random House, 1961.

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