CGIAR Gender

Time use as an indicator for gender equality in semi-arid tropics of India

By Ravula Padmaja, Senior Scientist Gender Research at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has a dataset gold mine! The Village Development Studies in South Asia (VDSA) are village level studies that ran from 1975 to 2015 in 30 villages in India and (after 2009) 12 villages in Bangladesh. This project, which aimed to understand rural transformations and development microeconomics, tracked the same 1824 households and individuals – women, men and children, of different ages. Data was collected once a month and covered all aspects of farm/household economies (available publically at:


From the start, VDSA was gender-sensitive, capturing trends and determinants of: the price of dowry; labor use and wages; education trends of men, women, boys and girls; and the allocation of nutritional and health outcomes between women and men in the same family. The VDSA dataset looks at time spent by men and women in the same household, on different tasks/activities/crops. Over the years, gender impacts emerged, including long-term nutritional benefits.

Farmer weeding maize field in Bihar, India (photo credit: CIMMYT)
Farmer weeding maize field in Bihar, India (photo credit: CIMMYT)

Women’s involvement increased over time both in terms of the number of hours spent per hectare as well as the range of operations. At the start of the project women were mostly involved in sowing, weeding and harvesting. Their time burden gradually increased as they became involved in land preparation, irrigation, plant protection and postharvest processing, although they still spent 75-94% of their time on sowing, weeding and harvesting. Meanwhile, men continued to perform the same operations – mostly land preparation and irrigation – and their burden gradually decreased, even more so in the case of hired labor, which reduced workload drastically.


Cropping patterns shifted from 2005 to commercial crops, agriculture intensification, irrigated agriculture etc. and increased the demand for women’s labor in different farm operations. Women now spend an average of 100-150 hours per hectare on their farms. That extra time was earlier spent on domestic activities and family care. This has mixed effects on nutritional status.


The project explored the relationship between time-use in different activities and how this influences nutrition outcomes. Individuals with good nutritional status (normal Body Mass Index [BMI]) were compared to individuals with an abnormal BMI, against the time use variable. Results show that overweight individuals -especially men- spend considerably less time on activities requiring higher energy. When the time-use variable is analyzed together with age, the relationship is highly significant for both underweight and overweight categories of adult men and women. Women tended to be more overweight than men despite spending more time on energy consuming activities. Caste and region had a highly significant influence on nutritional outcomes.


This long-term study suggests that time use is a transformative indicator of gender equality. The VDSA long term data set has proven to be a powerful tool for understanding rural transformation and for giving a voice to the least powerful and marginalized segments of Indian society.

Related research papers:

  1. Ravula Padmaja, Pramanik Soumitra, Pingali Prabhu, Bantilan Cynthia and Kasala Kavitha. (2018). Understanding nutritional outcomes through gendered analysis of time-use patterns in semi-arid India. Paper under review by Journal of Food Security.
  2. Ravula Padmaja, Pingali Prabhu, Bantilan Cynthia, Anilkumar GV and Kasala Kavitha. 2015. Feminization of agriculture: trends, interpretations and driving forces using micro-level evidence from the VLS villages of India.  Research report. Limited distribution.