Nitya Rao

Professor of Gender and Development

I have worked extensively as a researcher, teacher and advocate in the field of women’s rights, employment and education for over three decades. Starting my career as an activist committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment, my research interests include exploring the gendered changes in land, agrarian relations and migration patterns amongst marginalised, rural communities, with a view to achieving livelihood security, especially in contexts of climatic variability and economic precarity. I have conducted fine-grained research on households and intra-household dynamics in these contexts to draw out implications for gendered wellbeing, empowerment and justice, with a particular focus on food, nutrition and health security. I have published extensively on these themes in national and international peer-reviewed journals and books. While most of my research is located in South Asia, especially India, I have also worked in Eastern Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia) and Nigeria.

As a teacher, I have helped develop a basic understanding of gender issues amongst both postgraduate and undergraduate students over the last 18 years, supervised over 25 PhD students and mentored several early career researchers, both through research engagement and as editor of an international peer-reviewed journal Compare (2010-2016). I have contributed extensively to the strengthening of research teams, collaborations, and the research environment within UEA through several interventions, including support for UEA’s India Dialogue and the UNESCO Chair in Literacy for social transformation. More recently, I have taken over as the Director of the Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development which seeks to foster sustainable development through transdisciplinary research and innovation. As the first Director, I am tasked with creating synergies across the natural and social sciences for excellent research and global public good, transforming research and practice to enable equitable, food secure and sustainable futures.

I have consistently engaged with practical interventions on the ground, especially in India, and policy processes at multiple levels. I have participated in several expert group meetings and committees of the United Nations and served on the Global Advisory Committee of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) for over a decade. At present, I am a member of the Steering Group of the High-Level Panel of Experts to the Committee on Global Food Security, with oversight for the 16th HLPE Report on youth engagement. I am also a member of the Strategic Advisory Group to the Global Challenges Research Fund of the UK Government.


Key Research Interests and Expertise

Gender analysis of land and livelihoods; sustainable food systems; food and nutrition security; women’s agency 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; East Africa.


Current Research Projects

PI, British Academy GCRF funded ‘Urban and peri-urban agriculture as green infrastructure: Implications on wellbeing and sustainability in the global South (Nov 2019-May 2022).

Co-I, GCRF Global Research Translation Award on ‘Sustainable Food Systems’ as part of larger UEA grant entitled ‘Meeting the SDGs: Creating Innovative Infrastructures and Policy Solutions to Support Sustainable Development in the Global South’ (Oct 2019-December 2021).

Co-I on GCRF-funded Tigr2ess: Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable Food Supplies (2017-2021). My involvement relates to mapping ‘Sustainable and Transformative Agrarian and Rural Trajectories’ to highlight the diversity and complexity in Indian agricultural scenarios, and ‘Food, Nutrition, Education and Empowerment’, with a view to change at the community level.

Co-I on a Europe-India Partnership (EQUIP) (2019-2022) grant on the theme of ‘Coastal Transformations and Fisher Wellbeing’. Led by the Madras Institute of Development Studies, India, the consortium includes partners from India, Norway, France and Slovenia, apart from the UK. It builds on institutional links and hopes to carry forward research and dissemination contributing to transformative change at both community and policy level.


Recently Completed Research Projects

PI for India on research project ‘Migration and collectives as pathways out of poverty: Gendered vulnerabilities and capabilities of fishing communities in Asia’, funded by the Research Council of Norway (2016-2019).

Gender Lead, DFID-funded Research Programme Consortium ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia’ (LANSA), August 2013-December 2018. Following completion of research on women’s work and nutrition, our dissemination strategy is focusing on facilitating a multi-stakeholder regional platform for continued advocacy around the recognition of rights and entitlements of women agricultural workers in the region.

Gender Lead, “ASSAR: Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions” for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), March 2014-November 2018, funded by DFID-IDRC. As member of the CARIAA gender and equity group, I led the development of cross-CARIAA synthesis on issues of gender in climate hotspots.

External Coordinator, UNRISD research ‘When and why do states respond to women’s claims?: Understanding gender egalitarian policy change in Asia’, May 2013-April 2016.

Commissioned to write background papers for the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012 on Gender and Development, and the India Development Report 2013.

Team member, ESRC-DFID research project on intra-household allocations, 2007-10.

DFID Research grants for assessments of Gender and Growth in India (2007), and Nigeria (2008).