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College of Architecture + Planning

Women, Water and a Changing World View

Women, Water and a Changing World View

U students work across nations, disciplines to improve water security in India

The city of Hyderabad, India has grown from three million to approximately 12 million people in the last 20 years. A city once known for its urban lakes is now facing issues of water access as an outcome of its population growth, and women’s access to water is a huge deal.

U Associate Professor of History Benjamin Cohen, in collaboration with U Associate Professor, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning Stephen Goldsmith, led a team of six undergraduate students to Hyderabad, India to research water security through a grant from the U.S. Consulate. U students worked with nine Indian university students to “collaborate to confront the crisis of a rapidly urbanizing place, particularly around those problems associated with water,” said Goldsmith. The students explored various water-related problems in this highly urbanized area through geographical, political, social and cultural contexts.

Water access and gender equity is one of six thematic problems that the international student teams are working on through this interdisciplinary experience. Since returning from Hyderabad, the U students have been working with the Indian students through online platforms to brainstorm implementable solutions to the challenges they witnessed.

“Most Americans have thought of India as the land of Gandhi, and as a place of poverty,” says Cohen. “But we need to challenge this view – India is much more complicated, and in the past few decades, has undergone a series of revolutions – social, economic, etc. – that see a different India emerging: one that rightfully takes a place as one of the world’s great powers. Hyderabad’s growth over the past twenty years is an indication of the opportunities available to people as well as a challenge for the city to keep up.”

Many women come into Hyderabad from the surrounding areas as part of their occupations in the city, yet there is a lack of safe and clean water facilities, including restroom facilities for women. “This is a water cycle that has a social dimension that is unimaginable for most people here. So the gender side that speaks to a global problem of the rights of women in civil society is a big piece that we came to confront,” said Goldsmith.

The team visited a local women and girls center run by the Women’s Education Project to further explore the connection between water sustainability and social equity. “The center focuses on providing girls and young women who are at risk with a wide range of skills that they can take back to their villages, said Cohen. “Some of their work includes restoring the local ecology as well as watersheds.”

Indian architecture student Sukruti Gupta said of visiting the center, “It was eye-opening to know how one small facility is able to positively impact so many lives directly and indirectly. It gives confidence and skills to underprivileged girls to stand on their own feet, and through its leadership programs, ensures that a positive cycle of change is created with ripple effects visible in the entire community that the girl belongs to.”

“This isn’t about an academic exercise, says Goldsmith. “This is about the creation of relationships among people who realize that there is an independence and interconnectedness of the work and our attention to our global self.”

The U students will return to Hyderabad in July 2016 to present their solutions to the U.S. Consulates office, and community and non-governmental organizations that could potentially adopt and implement the proposed solutions on the ground. “Hyderabad was an enriching experience, as it changed my perspective towards the issues that we, as urban Indians face, and helped me to connect with wonderful people,” said Gupta.

“The themes of community engagement, activism, environment, and ecology are as valuable studied anywhere in the world as they are here,” said Cohen. “We need to move beyond our own front porch and realize that we live in a global world.”

India Image

Students from the University of Utah and from several universities across India working together in Hyderabad, India. The team is part of a grant sponsored by the U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad, titled, “Market Ready Solutions to Sustainable Urbanization.” The project is ongoing with a publication and presentation scheduled for July 2016 in Hyderabad.

 Article by Ashley Babbitt, Public Relations Specialist at the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning
Photo Credits:  Benjamin Cohen, University of Utah Associate Professor of History