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Gender, Sanitation, and Political Leadership in India


Why do governments sometimes fail to provide essential services that are fundamental to development and the well-being of their citizens? I investigate the role of gender, of both policy makers and of beneficiaries, in the variation of access to sanitation in rural India. I argue that politicians' gender can help explain why some elected officials are more responsive in providing sanitation services than others in terms of the quality and quantity of latrines. Given the close association between latrine quality and water-borne diseases, there is a need to examine the variation in the quality of latrines rather than access to latrines as previous studies do. Using an instrumental variable approach with sub-state level data that exploits the quasi-randomness of the gender of the winner in close elections, I study the influence of female state legislators of fifteen major states in India. When faced with increased electoral competition female politicians act in the same way as their male counterparts do, which is by widening latrine coverage, in order to signal good performance to the voters. However, female state legislators are more likely to improve sanitation services than their male counterparts by increasing higher quality latrines (flush toilets), after controlling for correlates of electoral incentives. Given that women benefit disproportionately from latrines, the role of gender in the decision making process among household members is likely to be relevant. Thus, the second part of my argument examines what influences women, the main beneficiaries of improved sanitation, to make financial investments towards having a household latrine. Drawing from nationwide household level survey data, I find that households are more likely to have latrines not only when women are more informed through mass media, but also when their intra-household status is higher, especially with respect to taking part in the financial decision making process in households.

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