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My research explores marginalization processes in natural resource governance and rural development to contribute to our understanding of the relationship between food security and women’s empowerment. I combine social and environmental justice scholarship with political ecology, development and feminist theories to explore just transformations. My work in South Asia promotes insights into processes of social exclusion due to intersections of gender, age, ethnicity, class and caste characteristics at multiple scales (household, village, district, development programming, national and policy level). My research agenda embraces two broad themes:


Water governance, rural out-migration and the feminization of agriculture


Feminist political ecology, collective action and participatory action research

Women Building Stone Wall..jpeg
Water governance

Water governance, rural out-migration and the feminization of agriculture

Key publications:

Leder, S. (2022): “Beyond the “Feminisation of Agriculture”: Rural out-migration, changing gender relations and emerging spaces in natural resource management” Journal of Rural Studies 91. 157-169.


For a transformative approach towards more just rural development, I reconceptualize narratives of a “Feminization of Agriculture”, and argue for building on feminist political ecology and rural out-migration research in order to draw attention to changing gender relations and emerging spaces in natural resource governance.

Leder, S., Clement, F., Karki, E. (2017): “Reframing women’s empowerment in water security programs in Western Nepal” Gender and Development 25 (2): 235-251.


Water security programs aiming at women’s empowerment are often apolitically and technically framed and fail to understand complex intersectional inequalities in contexts of rural out-migration. Based on research within the till date largest funded NGO-led climate resilience and adaptation program BRACED, I examine how to reframe water security programs to ensure more inclusive and locally adapted approaches to women’s empowerment in Nepal.

Leder, S., Sachs, C. (2019): “Intersectional Perspectives on the Gender- Agriculture Nexus. Relational life histories and additive indices” In: Sachs, C. (Ed.): Gender, Agriculture and Agrarian Transformations. Changing Relations in Africa, Latin America and Asia. New York: Routledge. 75-92.


Through extensive field work and survey data, I learned the need for a truly intersectional approach in food security programmes that supports challenging the structural barriers that keep marginalised men and women food insecure. Since these learnings I suggest informing standardised measures of empowerment with an assessment of local meanings and values, e.g. through qualitative interviews and oral histories.

Clement, F., Buisson, M., Leder, S., Balasoubramanya, S., Bastakoti, R., Karki, E., van Koppen, B., Saikia, P. (2019): “Does women’s empowerment lead to enhanced food security? Revisiting dominant food and water security discourses.” Global Food Security 23: 160-172.


Based on data from Nepal, Bangladesh and Tajikistan, I co-authored an innovative cross-country analysis on the causal linkages between women’s empowerment and enhanced food security.

Buisson, M.-C., Clement, F., Leder, S.: “Empowerment and the will to change: Evidence from Nepal.” Journal of Rural Studies 94: 128-139.


In this article, we show the importance of “the will to change” which explains the dynamic, and political nature of women's empowerment and its diversity of meanings.

Women Building Stone Wall..jpeg
Feminist political ecology

Feminist political ecology, collective action and participatory action research

Key publications:

Leder, S., Sugden, F., Raut, M., Saikia, P., Dhananjay, J. (2019): “Ambivalences of collective farming: feminist political ecologies from Eastern India and Nepal.” International Journal of the Commons 13 (1): 105-129.

In this article on the “Ambivalences of Collective Farming“, I complement feminist political ecology and commons studies and I take a situated and intersectional approach to show how social differences such as gender, ethnicity, and land ownership are renegotiated and shaping commoning practices,

Sugden, F., Agarwal, B.; Leder, S.; Saikia, P.; Raut, M.; Kumar, A.; Ray, D. (2020): “Experiments in farmer collectives in eastern India and Nepal: process, benefits and challenges.” Journal of Agrarian Change 21 (1). 90-121.


In this political economy paper, colleagues and I view farmer collectives as an approach to overcoming agrarian stress and gendered inequalities.

Leder, S., Das, D., Shrestha, G. (2019): “Transformative engagements with gender relations in agriculture and water resource management.” New Angle – Nepal Journal of Social Science and Public Policy 5 (1): 128-158. 

This paper reflects on designing, developing and piloting a participatory gender training with farmer groups as transformative engagement.

Leder, S., Das, D., Reckers, A., Karki, E. (2016): “Participatory Gender Training for Community Groups. A Manual for Critical Discussions on Gender Norms, Roles and Relations“ CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). 50 pages.

This is a manual to lead a three-hour workshop with farmers or project stakeholders on gender norms, roles and relations in agriculture and natural resource management. It helps inform, monitor and modify development project interventions.

Women Building Stone Wall..jpeg
Research Projects

Research Projects (Selection)

Revitalizing community-managed irrigation systems in contexts of out-migration in Nepal

Funder: FORMAS Mobility Starting Grant of the Swedish Research Council for the Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning

Role: PI, Lead applicant (100%)

Partner: Prof. Lyla Mehta (University of Sussex, UK), Prof. Leila Harris (University of British Columbia, Canada), Dr. Kees van der Geest (United Nations University, Bonn), Dr. Dil Khatri (Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, SIAS, Nepal)

Tanzania Capacity Building Program in Research and Education for Sustainable Land and Environmental Management for Inclusive Development with Ardhi University, Dar es Salaam

Funder: SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency)

Role: Supervision of one of five PhD students, Happiness Mlula: „Water governance in small towns: The role of local actors in domestic water service provision in Tanzania”

Partner: Prof. Alphonce Kyessi, Prof. Ally Namangaya, Ardhi University, Tanzania

Funder: Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Role: Co-investigator since 2018, 2014-2917 Project Researcher (40%)

Partner: Erik Schmidt (PI, University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Dr. Fraser Sugden (University of Birmingham, UK), Dr. Alan Nicol (IWMI, Uganda)

Funder: UK Department for International Development (DFID)

Role: Research Lead of the empowerment and resilience study (40%)

Partner: International Development Enterprise (iDE UK) and International Water Managment Institute (IWMI)

Women Building Stone Wall..jpeg
Research Methods

Research Methods

I combine qualitative, quantitative, and participatory methods to better understand human-environment relations and the politics and practices of environmental governance across scales. In my postdoctoral research since 2014 I have applied the following methods:

  • Semi-structured qualitative interviews with small-scale farmers (n= approx. 250)

  • Expert interviews in agriculture, rural development and urban planning (n= approx. 80)

  • Focus Group Discussions (n=approx. 25)

  • Household survey questionnaires (n= 376)

  • Gender indices, such as the “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index”

  • Ethnographic and participative methods:

    • Participative Observations,

    • Transect Walk,

    • Life Histories,

    • Oral Histories of Environmental Change,

    • Village Resource Mappings,

    • Empowerment Mappings

  • Participatory Action Research (e.g. methods of the Participatory Gender Training, Leder et al. 2016)

  • Document-, and Policy-Analyses

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