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Personal profile


The focus of my work as a researcher, teacher, trainer and social activist is driven by a commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, within broader issues of resource rights, social equity and rural development. Gender analysis underpins all my research, be it in relation to understanding changes in land and agrarian relations, migration, livelihoods, food and nutrition security, growth and well-being, equity issues in education policies and provisioning, or indeed processes of policy change. My book on land as a resource in the struggle over gendered identities entitled “Good women do not inherit Land": Politics of Land and Gender in India was published by Social Science Press and Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, in 2008, republished in 2012. My more recent work on gender and land has been published by World Development in 2017. Titled 'Assets, Agency and Legitimacy: Towards a relational understanding of gender equality policy and practice'.

Between 2015-2017, I coordinated an UNRISD research project entitled ‘When and why do states respond to women’s claims: Understanding gender-egalitarian policy change in Asia’, which sought to understand processes of claims-making in relation to the labour rights of women workers, in particular, migrant, domestic workers, and issues of violence against women. A special cluster of articles was published in Development and Change (2018). The various country reports and thematic papers are available on the project website: http://www.unrisd.org/gender-claims

Between 2014-2018, I was engaged with two major research consortia, and was responsible for mainstreaming a gender perspective in them. The first, LANSA, or Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia, seeks to identify potential agriculture or food based solutions to the nutritional problem in South Asia. My personal contribution to this work has been to explore how gender relations and women’s work burdens mediate this linkage. The second, ASSAR, or Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions, a consortia under CARIAA (Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia), seeks to understand the barriers and enablers for effective adaptation within dynamic and socially-differentiated semi-arid regions. My specific focus here is on pastoralist groups in East Africa.

In 2016, with partners in Norway, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and India, we were successful in securing a research grant for a cross-country project entitled ‘Migration and collectives as pathways out of poverty: Gendered vulnerabilities and capabilities of fishing communities in Asia’. I led  the India component of the study, with a focus on coastal Tamil Nadu. Following this, I was successful in securing a UK-EU-India collaborative project on coastal transformations, with the UK component funded by ESRC.

Further, I was a co-I in the University of Cambridge-led GCRF project entitled Tigr2ess: Transforming India's Green Revolution towards Sustainable Food Supplies. A legacy product from this work is a 4 credit, open access module on 'Creative communication for sustainable development', on the Government of India's Swayam platform, and managed by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). As an offshoot, I received a research translation award as a component of UEA's proposal 'Meeting the SDGs'.

Having served as a member of the Global Advisory Committee of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative for over a decade, I have been invited as an expert on gender, land and livelihoods to several high-level meetings. I am currently a member of the High Level Panel of Experts to the Committee on World Food Security (2019-2023) and a Commissioner for EAT-Lancet Commission 2.0 on healthy and sustainable diets.

Alongside research and advocacy, I have been involved in building partnerships and networks with research and teaching organisations globally, and also building the capacities of researchers and practitioners on conducting gendered research. This includes deepening theoretical insights to research design, data collection, analysis and writing.

The geographical focus of my work is mainly South Asia, though I have experience in East Africa as well.

I have been the Co-Editor of Compare, A Journal of Comparative and International Education, supported by the British Association of International and Comparative Education, August 2010-16. I have also served as an Executive Council member, and Secretary, of the British Association of South Asian Studies, for six years.

I try to bring my diverse experiences into the classroom. Apart from teaching courses on gender concepts, livelihoods and social policy to both undergraduate and graduate students, over 25 of my PhD students, working on a range of issues including gender, agrarian reform, livelihoods, food safety, identity and policy development, have successfully completed their doctoral programme. I have been an external examiner for several PhD students at various universities in the UK and India.


CV and Experience

Click to download Nitya's CV

Key Research Interests

Gender analysis of land and livelihoods; climate change adaptation; food security and nutrition; women's work, organisation and empowerment; literacy and education; indigenous peoples and social movements, identities and well-being; sociology and anthropology; participatory research/action research methodologies; India; South Asia; East Africa.



Research Groups: Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development; Educational Diversity, Literacy and DevelopmentGender and Development

Research Activities

I am currently leading a British Academy funded study on urban and periurban agriculture as green infrastructure: implications for sustainability and wellbeing, in India and Tanzania. I am also co-leading a multi-Research Council funded UK-EU-India partnership on coastal transformations and their impacts on fisher wellbeing. 

As Director of NISD, we have signed an MoU with the World Fish Centre, Penang, to engage collaboratively with research and development activities. 

For all my recent projects please look at the Gender research pages here

Current Projects

Girls Education Challenge Fund – Evaluation Manager Consortium
The Girls' Education Challenge Fund (GEC) seeks to support a range of interventions and innovations in DFID partner countries to ensure that girls overcome gender specific obstacles to enrolling, remaining in school and learning. While GEC is being implemented by a number of organisations on the ground, we are part of an Evaluation Manager Consortium (led by Coffey) that seeks to establish and share what works and what doesn't, though project evaluations, meta-analysis and thematic studies.

DEV Key Contact: Nitya Rao
Project Dates: September 2012-March 2015

When and why do states respond to women’s claims

This research seeks to understand how policy change to strengthen women's rights occurs. When and why do states respond to women's claims-making? What are the factors and conditions under which non-state actors can effectively trigger and influence policy change? What are the mechanisms necessary to ensure that issues get on the policy agenda?

DEV Key Contact: Nitya Rao
Project Dates: April 2013 - December 2015

Areas of Expertise

Gender analysis of land and livelihoods; women's organisation and empowerment; literacy and education; gender and public policy; indigenous peoples and social movements; identities and well-being; sociology and anthropology; methodologies of monitoring and evaluation of development initiatives; India; South Asia.

Teaching Interests

I jointly direct the MA in Gender Analysis and International Development and MA in International Social Development with Steve Russell. I teach on two of the core modules for MAGAID, namely, Gender Concepts of Development and Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change (RLAC), in the autumn semester. While RLAC aims to provide an overview of rural livelihoods and approaches to their analysis, alongside a critical assessment of gender relations and poverty for livelihood-building at the micro-level, GCD seeks to provide students with a thorough understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of gender and development. It also establishes the linkages between gender and key debates within development studies such as poverty, violence, religion and the role of men in development.

Both these modules have consistently been highly rated by students as they seek to facilitate the understanding of key concepts and their application to practical contexts through the use of a range of teaching methods including lectures, seminars, workshops, practical exercises and simulation games.

At the undergraduate level, I have been involved in teaching an optional unit on Gender in Development. I have supervised over 75 Masters and Undergraduate dissertations over the past years.

Research Supervision

  1. Rocio Hiraldo Lopez-Alonso: Green capitalist economies through a focus on labour: enclosures, exploitation and class conflict in Senegal
  2. Mirna Guha: 'Looking through her eyes': Responses and experiences of post-trafficking interventions by 'victims' of cross border-trafficking between India and Bangladesh
  3. Betty Mntambo: Intra-household negotiations in urban agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania
  4. Nkechi Nwankwo: Pathways to women's economic empowerment in Oke Arin market, Lagos
  5. Sugandha Nagpal: Mobility and migration in rural Punjab
  6. Mamata Pradhan: Can incentive-based delivery approaches improve food and nutrition security outcomes in India?
  7. Dafni Skalidou: Certification and cocoa farmers in Ghana
  8. Anna Arial: Land rights discourse and practices in Madagascar

Recently completed:


  • Fusheng Jia: Continuing education and the aspirations of mighrant workers in China (2017)
  • Mona Daoud: Missing links: Gender and climate change in Egypt (2016)
  • Graeme Tolley: 'Love', work and reputation: Opportunities and constraints for men in a village in central Gujarat (2016)
  • Olabamidele Ogunleye: Understanding intra-household gender relations: A case study from Nigeria (2015)
  • Frances Hay: Indebtedness, illegality and incapacity: Everyday experiences of poverty and barriers to mobility for a migrant community in Delhi, India
  • Paramita Muljono‘Gender Dynamics in Indonesian Bureaucracy’
  • Minh Nguyen'Servants of the Socialist Economy'
  • Emmanuel Nyamkeye; 'Gender and water vending in Northern Ghana'
  • Patrik Oskarsson‘Rights and Resources - Extractive Industries and Indigenous Peoples' Rights in the case of the Samatha Judgement in Tribal Eastern India’
  • Monika Nielsen; ‘Exploring gender violence in schools in Mozambique’
  • Maria Farah Quijano‘Rural Livelihoods and Gender’
  • Gandhi Gonzalez-Guerrero; ‘Community Organisation for Tourism: A Mexican Case’
  • Joe Hill‘Water Rights and Water Governance in Chotanagpur, Jharkhand’
  • Dolf te Lintelo‘Food Safety Policy in India’
  •  Vusilizwe Thebe; ‘The Re-peasantisation of Rural Livelihoods: An Assessment of the Impact of Zimbabwe's Models of Resettlement on Rural Livelihoods, Rural Development and Economic Development’
  • Marwan Mubarak; ‘Forced Migration, Poverty and the Informal Economy in Sudan’
  •  Anja Kovacs; ‘A Saffron Sisterhood? Agency, Activism and Empowerment of Women in the Hindu Nationalist Movement’


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or