A photo of a water body with ducks swimming and with vegetation nearby

Department of
Humanities and Social Sciences

Photo of Sara  Ahmed

Sara Ahmed

Adjunct Faculty

Humanities and Social Sciences

Socio-political economy of water in India; Founder of the Living Waters Museum, which is a virtual repository on water heritage


Sara Ahmed joined IISER Pune in October 2020. She has a PhD in Environmental Sociology from the University of Cambridge (1991). She was a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) from 1992-2002 and was a Senior Program Specialist with International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada from 2009-2015. In 2017, Sara launched the Living Waters Museum, a virtual repository on water heritage. She has been an Adjunct Professor at Ahmedabad University and currently serves on the board of WaterAid India, Wetlands International South Asia and the Global Network of Water Museums.


From waterscapes to climate change

From her doctoral research looking at the politics of participation in the cleaning of the Ganga at Varanasi, Sara has been interested in how the material world of water intersects with the symbolic and sacred through cultural practices that are not necessarily inclusive. Sara has led several internationally funded research projects in Gujarat and across India critically assessing women’s participation, agency and voice in the context of decentralised water governance. Over the years, this has led to collaborative research on adaptation to climate change in  South Asia, including the development of a vulnerability index to understand what drives resilient livelihoods.  

Gender and development praxis

Gender lies at the heart of social inequality in India. Sara’s interest in gender stems from her award-winning undergraduate research on the Chipko movement, questioning if it was an ecofeminist and transformative movement. She developed a portfolio of teaching and research on gender and rural development at IRMA, which included understanding gender within development organisations in terms of leadership, capacities and opportunities for women, especially the marginalised, and issues of mobility, access and gender-based violence at work. Sara also provided extensive support for gender transformative change through the research she mentored at IDRC on agriculture, food and nutrition security, as well as climate change and water security. 

Selected Publications

Ahmed, S. (2019) “Shaping our Fluid Heritage”, Journal of Heritage Management, 4:2, 117-122. Also, Guest Editor for this Special Issue on ‘Managing our Water Heritage’. 

Ahmed, S. (2019) “A political ecology of women, water and global environmental change”, Water International, 44:8, 919-922  

Zwarteveen, M., Ahmed, S. and S.R. Gautam (eds.) (2012) Diverting the Flow: Gender Equity and Water in South Asia, New Delhi: Zubaan and SaciWATERs.

Mustafa, D., Ahmed, S., Saroch, E. and H. Bell (2010) “Pinning down Vulnerability: From Narratives to Numbers,” Journal of Disasters, (online, Overseas Development Institute, London). 

Ahmed, S., and E. Fajber (2009) “Engendering Adaptation to Climate Variability in Gujarat, India,” in G. Terry (ed.) Climate Change and Gender Justice, Oxfam and Practical Action.

Ahmed, S. (2008) “A Dialogue along the Jholapuri River: Addressing Water and Gender Conflicts through Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships,” in K.J. Joy et al. (eds.) Water Conflicts in India – A Million Revolts in the Making, New Delhi and London: Routledge. 

Ahmed, S. (2008) “Gender and Integrated Water Resources Management in South Asia: the Challenge of Community-Managed Alternatives,” in K. Lahiri-Dutt (eds.) Water First, New Delhi: Sage.

Ahmed, S. (2007) “The Gendered Context of Vulnerability: Coping / Adapting to Floods in Eastern India,” in M. Krishnaraj (ed.) Gender, Food Security and Rural Livelihoods, Kolkata: STREE.

Ahmed, S. (2007) “Getting Gender Mainstreaming in Water Right: Perceptions, Practices and Policies: Review Essay”, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2007, 9(4), pp. 583-593. 

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Flowing Upstream: Negotiating Gender and Equity in Water Policy and Institutional Practice in India,” in M. Leybourne and A. Gaynor (eds.) Water: Histories, Cultures, Ecologies (eds.) Perth: University of Western Australia Press.

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Mainstreaming Gender Equity in Water Management: Policy and Practice,” in V. Ratna Reddy and S. Mahendra Dev (eds.) Managing Water Resources: Policies, Institutions and Technologies, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Gender, Vulnerability and Disasters: Key Concerns for Policy and Practice,” Disaster and Development, 1(1), pp. 165-178. 

Ahmed, S. (ed.) 2005. Flowing Upstream: Empowering Women through Water Management Initiatives in India, Ahmedabad: Centre for Environment Education and New Delhi: Foundation India Books.