Claiming status and contesting sexual violence and harassment among community health activists in Delhi

Emilija Zabiliute*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on an ethnographic fieldwork in an urban poor area in Delhi, this paper examines how Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) experience and critique sexual violence and harassment in the city. Inherent in these women’s critiques is blaming of urban poor men who belong to their social class, resonating with middle-class discourses emerging in urban India. Simultaneously, in their accounts of sexual violence in domestic spaces, women invoked notions of romantic love and familial success. I argue that this discursive tension around urban poor men is linked to women’s attempts to assert and claim higher social status and respectability in the context of highly divided and gendered city. ASHAs made claims and asserted themselves in the multiple arenas of urban life, as their work on women’s health required cultivation of knowledge and engagement with public spaces, intimate spheres, and cultivation of familial roles. Through a reading of de Certeau’s concept of tactics as limited trajectories of claims to urban environments developed among the powerless, I show how access to urban spaces can be revisited as a negotiation and a claim, rather than being shaped only by existing social status. And, I show how responding with readiness to multiple conditions of urban poverty involves negotiation of those claims pertaining both public and private spaces and spheres.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-68
Number of pages17
JournalGender, Place and Culture
Issue number1
Early online date31 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • sexual harassment
  • sexual violence
  • urban poor
  • community health workers
  • public and private space
  • India


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