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Can collective action strategies motivate behavior change to reduce open defecation in rural India?

Research, Sanitation, Social Hierarchy1 min read

Authors: Payal Hathi, Dean Spears, Diane Coffey

Published in: Waterlines

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Abstract:  

The world’s remaining open defecation is increasingly concentrated in rural India. The Indian government’s efforts to reduce open defecation by providing subsidies for latrine construction have been largely unsuccessful in addressing the problem. It is now clear that behavior change must be the priority if progress on ending open defecation is to be made. 

While community-led strategies have proven effective in various developing country contexts, there are serious reasons to question whether similar methods can work in rural India.  Through both quantitative and qualitative analyses, we find that strict social hierarchies that continue to govern daily interactions in rural life today obstruct the spirit of cooperation upon which such methods rely. 

Additionally, caste-based notions of purity and pollution make the simple latrines used all over the developing world unattractive to rural Indians.  In a context where people identify most closely with their caste and religious groups rather than their geographical villages, our findings suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the idea of “community” is required.  More experimentation, both with community-led and other strategies, is needed in order to effectively move from open defecation to latrine use in rural India.

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r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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