India has experienced unprecedented growth in the last two decades—a development largely attributed to economic reforms initiated in the early 1990s. India's approach to liberalisation has been commended for its gradual implementation and its sympathy for poor rural workers. Studies examining the relevance of this claim generally use national survey data, which are seriously limited. So far little effort has been focussed on understanding what reforms actually mean for the rural poor using primary data. In this paper, we use data from a household survey carried out in the villages of Andhra Pradesh. We ask what impact India's reforms have had on its female agricultural labour—who are arguably among its poorest. Specifically, we investigate the impact of three developments considered fundamental to India's economic transformation: a sectoral shift in favour of industry, credit market reforms and poverty alleviation strategies. We argue that despite having a beneficial impact overall, economic reforms have resulted in further marginalising rural women into badly paid and socially debasing waged work. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.