Sign In


While female labour force participation rates have historically been low in India, they have recently received considerable attention in research, policy and practice because of a decline over the last two decades. There have been several explanations proposed, such as - greater participation in education, social and religious norms, the ‘income effect’, lack of safe work standards, gender pay differentials and lack of jobs, yet there is no consensus or clarity on the phenomenon.

Gender divisions of labour that shape women’s participation in care work, household work and paid work have long been an area of interest in gender research, given their centrality in mediating women’s agency, wellbeing, and even empowerment. The importance of the socio-cultural and political-economic context in shaping outcomes has seen substantial academic work from sociologists and social anthropologists, focusing on the intersections of caste, nature of work, gender and status.

This study builds on a previous one in rural Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by the researchers. This project seeks to fill a gap in the available literature by placing this exploration in the context of changes in gender relations driven both by changing employment opportunities and state welfare provisions.



Soundarya Iyer is a social scientist interested in inter-disciplinary approaches to the study of agrarian change, livelihoods, urbanisation and land tenure systems in South Asia. She holds a Ph.D. from National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Her doctoral dissertation traced the processes of rural transformation in three villages of Karnataka that had been studied in the Census of India 1961 Village Survey Monographs. She has worked on climate change adaptation in semi-arid regions at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore and was recently the Sir Ratan Tata Post-doctoral Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.

Additional writing / Articles

Iyer, S. (2017) ‘Circular Migration and Localized Urbanization in Rural India’. Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8 (1): 105-119.

Pani, N. and Iyer, S. (2015) ‘Towards a Framework to Determine Backwardness: Caste, Inequality and Reservations in India’. Journal of South Asian Development. 10 (1): 48-72.


Nitya Rao has close to 35 years’ experience as a field-level practitioner, trainer, researcher and teacher. She has worked in the field of gendered land relations, agriculture, food and nutrition security, adaptation to climate change, migration and livelihoods, education, and intra-household relations. Her book entitled ‘Good women do not inherit Land: Politics of Land and Gender in India’ was published in 2008 by Social Science Press, New Delhi. In India, her research and practice, focuses in two specific areas: a) Women’s work, resource rights and nutrition; and b) Girl’s and women’s literacy and empowerment. While most of her primary research and grassroots engagement is based in India, she has held research projects in South Asia, East Africa and has in the past worked on country-level analyses of the gender differentiated impacts of growth processes in India and Nigeria.

Additional writing / Articles

Rao, N and S. Raju. (2019) Gendered time, seasonality and nutrition: Insights from two Indian districts, Feminist Economics. DOI: 10.1080/13545701.2019.1632470

Rao, N, Gazdar, H and Chanchani, D and M. Ibrahim (2019) A Systematic Review of Women’s agricultural work and nutrition in South Asia: from pathways to a cross-disciplinary, grounded analytical framework. Food Policy. 82: 50-62.

Rao, N. (2017). Assets, Agency and Legitimacy: Towards a Relational Understanding of Gender Equality Policy and Practice. World Development. 95: 43-54.

Rao, N (2015) Marriage, Violence, and Choice: Understanding Dalit Women’s Agency in Rural Tamil Nadu. Gender and Society. 29(3): 410-433.

Rao, N (2014) Caste, Kinship and Life-course: Rethinking Women’s Work and Agency in Rural South India. Feminist Economics, 20(4): 78-102.

Rao, N (2014) Migration, mobility and changing power relations: Aspirations and praxis of Bangladeshi migrants. Gender, Place and Culture. 21(7): 872-887.

Rao, N (2012) Male ‘providers’ and female ‘housewives: A gendered co-performance in rural North India. Development and Change, 43(5):1025-48.

> View Next: Identification of best practices that promote Early Childhood Education (ECE) and address malnutrition through strategically planned holistic interventions at Anganwadi centers in rural India