Bipasha BaruahWestern Arts & Humanities

Research Interests and Areas of Expertise


1. Women, land and housing

Dr. Baruah first embarked upon research on women and property ownership during her PhD at York University (completed in 2005). Over the years she has published extensively on this topic in peer-reviewed venues in international development and gender studies. She has also presented findings from this research at premier academic and non-academic venues in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Although she has developed research on this topic in different locations, she has continued to ask three questions: 1) What are the specific social, economic, legal, cultural, political and institutional factors that impede or facilitate women’s ability to own and control landed property? 2) How can state agencies, NGOs and advocacy groups support women’s attempts to acquire landed assets? 3) What specific skills, opportunities, and legislative and policy changes do women need to empower themselves vis-à-vis men in the ownership of land and housing?

In addition to contributing to academic scholarship on an important but understudied topic, Dr. Baruah’s research on women and property ownership has been translated into concrete policy outcomes. Findings from her research in India enabled the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to advocate for the implementation of pro-women policies such as mandatory joint land titles for married couples and one-third representation of women on co-operative societies in the state of Gujarat. Read the review of the book.  

2. Research on gender and low-carbon development

Countries around the world are experimenting with ways to make their economies less carbon-intensive by developing less polluting technologies, creating new green jobs, or by retrofitting existing sectors such as forestry, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, waste management, construction, public transportation and energy production. A gendered analysis of green growth and development strategies reveals two very problematic blind spots. First, women are known to have weaker access to new technologies almost everywhere in the world so there are likely to be unequal access issues inherent in the transition to low-carbon economies. Second, it is well-established not only that 70% of the world’s poorest 1.3 billion people are women and children, but also that women are already very poorly represented globally in sectors like construction, renewable energy (RE), manufacturing and public transportation that are critical to the green economy. To enable the transition to a gender-sensitive global green economy, we must (a) understand the opportunities and constraints women face in accessing green technologies and livelihoods and (b) document and analyze grounded examples from around the world of making green technologies, education, training and financing affordable and accessible for low-income women. Assembling such a body of knowledge will enable us to formulate appropriate programs and to advocate for policies to ensure that green technologies and livelihoods do not remain unaffordable and inaccessible for low-income groups in general, and women in particular. Much of Dr. Baruah’s current research on identifying opportunities and constraints for women’s employment in RE has contributed towards addressing questions about the social justice and equity dimensions of transitioning to low-carbon economies. She has published peer-reviewed papers, policy briefs, popular news articles and op-eds on this topic; given interviews to think-tanks and advocacy groups; and presented initial findings from her previous and continuing research on women’s employment in renewables in countries around the world. Dr. Baruah’s research on women and property ownership and women’s employment in RE and resource efficiency were identified as being influential within governments, financial institutions and NGOs when she was named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists in 2015.

3. Research on NGOs as development intermediaries

There is a growing literature on the role of civil society organizations in general, and NGOs in particular, as intermediaries in rural development but most of it focuses on agriculture, animal husbandry, rural enterprise development, and microfinance. Broadly speaking, few NGOs specialize in housing and researchers, including Dr. Baruah, have in the past tried to understand why. The limited research on NGOs in housing tends to focus on urban experiences. Little is written about NGO involvement in rural housing. The literature on NGOs in post-disaster rural housing reconstruction is also limited. Dr. Baruah developed a research project in collaboration with SEWA in India to understand the potential and limitations for NGOs to serve as intermediaries (between beneficiaries, governments, and international relief/development organizations) on post-disaster rural reconstruction projects. Initial research was conducted in 2005-2007 in the aftermath of a major earthquake in the state of Gujarat in 2001. Additional data were collected in 2009 and 2012. Methods included interviews with SEWA staff (engineers, fieldworkers, and managers) and 30 female heads of beneficiary households, extensive on-site observation, reviews of unpublished internal project documents and published literature on post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Findings from this research reveal that NGOs can play important roles in facilitating the design and construction of high-quality, culturally appropriate housing; revitalizing and diversifying livelihoods for women and men in rural areas; and reducing physical and social vulnerability to future disasters. NGOs should have clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and accountability measures in post-disaster reconstruction projects, but they also need a certain amount of autonomy to protect their organizational philosophies and flexibility to make day-to-day decisions. This research was published in September 2015 by the journal, Development in Practice, just 5 months after the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Judging by the number of requests Dr. Baruah has had for copies of this article (as well as for additional information about the study) from humanitarian organizations (Relief International, International Relief and Development, Habitat for Humanity, to name a few), the policy recommendations and lessons learned from the research in India have been useful for practical and policy purposes.

In addition to studying the potential for NGOs to contribute to post-disaster rural reconstruction, Dr. Baruah has also studied the potential and limitations for NGOs to participate in public-private initiatives aimed at increasing the access of poor urban populations in developing countries and emerging economies to basic services such water, sanitation and electricity. Findings from this research have been published extensively as peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. The Asian Development Bank recognized this research as a “best practice” for socially inclusive energy reform in 2011 because it highlights the need for safe and reliable energy services for the urban poor while simultaneously addressing gender equality and land tenure issues. Dr. Baruah has been invited to present this research at conferences organized by International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC) in Kampala, Uganda; the Durham Energy Institute in Manchester, UK; the 4th Inter-Asian Connections conference organized by the US Social Sciences Research Council in Istanbul, Turkey; and the IDRC-funded Putting Public in Public Services: Research, Action and Equity conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

4. Research on women in the informal sector

Dr. Baruah’s interest in the informal economy began in the early 2000s while she was still a PhD student and first began her collaboration with SEWA in India. With over 2 million members across India as well as sister organizations all over the world, SEWA is the world’s most powerful and visible organization advocating for the rights and entitlements of women working in the informal sector in the Global South. Over the years, Dr. Baruah has researched and written extensively about the opportunities and constraints that informal sector women face in securing access to land, housing, livelihoods, basic infrastructural services and financial inclusion in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in India. This research has appeared in the most highly-ranked journals in international development and labor studies (World Development, Progress in Development Studies, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, Labor Studies Journal, to name a few). She has also given invited lectures and keynotes on the informal economy, organized and participated in sessions at conferences, reviewed books on informal and precarious employment, supervised graduate students and examined doctoral dissertations, served as an expert on topics related to the informal sector for research organizations and NGOs, and authored invited peer-reviewed contributions on the topic. As an example, Dr. Baruah has written the “Informal Economy” entry for the Oxford Bibliographies in Geography edited by Professor Barney Warf in 2010 and 2012.  

5. Research on women in non-traditional occupations

Dr. Baruah developed a collaborative research project with SEWA to identify the challenges and opportunities facing women in the construction industry in India. SEWA conducted two surveys in Ahmedabad in 1998 and 2003 to understand the needs and priorities of construction workers in the context of economic globalization. Dr. Baruah conducted another survey in 2007 in the city of Ahmedabad with the assistance of SEWA staff to assess the impacts of construction training programs upon 5,000 women trained by SEWA in a range of construction skills. The findings led her to enthusiastically endorse the role that training and certification can play in providing skilled women with quality non-traditional employment opportunities and to simultaneously emphasize the need for wider policy intervention at the state and national level to ensure that such programs have replicable, sustainable, and gender-equitable results. Peer-reviewed papers based on this research have appeared in Development in Practice and Labor Studies Journal. Women and Environments International, a popular Canadian newsmagazine also published a feature based on this research.

Since 2012, Dr. Baruah has been conducting primary research in New Delhi, India with a hybrid public-private-NGO initiative called Women on Wheels (WOW) that trains and employs resource-poor urban women as chauffeurs and taxi drivers. WOW’s work is made possible by two organizations: a non-profit organization called Azad Foundation that provides professional driving training and also organizes chauffeur placement services for women after they acquire their licenses; and a cooperatively run for-profit taxi company, Sakha Cabs, that employs drivers trained by its sister NGO. Preliminary findings provide evidence of the potential for employment in professional driving to alleviate poverty and promote gender equality. Through the study of a socially innovative urban economic empowerment project that brings together state agencies, NGOs, corporations and social enterprises, Dr. Baruah’s research documents the emergence of a hybrid model of capitalism, multiple-stakeholder governance and civil society participation that may provide viable means for promoting social justice. One important lesson that emerges from this research and other research conducted in the past on resource-poor women and paid labor in India and elsewhere seems to be that similar social and economic outcomes can be accomplished using both neoliberal and non-neoliberal strategies. The two may not be as different and diametrically opposed as they are often made out to be in the development literature, and they do not have to be mutually exclusive. The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has invited her to Ottawa to talk about this research as part of its focus on women’s economic empowerment and enabling inclusive markets.

This research provided the grounding for Dr. Baruah’s keynote lecture “Social Innovation and Gender Equality in India: Moving Beyond Numbers” at the Poverty’s Causes and Consequences in the Urban Developing World conference at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland in August 2016.

Copies of Dr. Baruah’s publications are downloadable from