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Women’s empowerment and gender equality in agricultural value chains: Evidence from four countries in Asia and Africa


Women play important roles at different nodes of both agricultural and off-farm value chains, but in many countries their contributions are either underestimated or limited by prevailing societal norms or gender-specific barriers. We use primary data collected in Asia (Bangladesh, Philippines) and Africa (Benin, Malawi) to examine the relationships between women’s empowerment, gender equality, and participation in a variety of local agricultural value chains that comprise the food system. We find that the value chain and the specific node of engagement matter, as do other individual and household characteristics, but in different ways depending on country context. Entrepreneurship—often engaged in by wealthier households with greater ability to take risks—is not necessarily empowering for women; nor is household wealth, as proxied by their asset ownership. Increased involvement in the market is not necessarily correlated with greater gender equality. Education is positively correlated with higher empowerment of both men and women, but the strength of this association varies. Training and extension services are generally positively associated with empowerment but could also exacerbate the inequality in empowerment between men and women in the same household. All in all, culture and context determine whether participation in value chains—and which node of the value chain—is empowering. In designing food systems interventions, care should be taken to consider the social and cultural contexts in which these food systems operate, so that interventions do not exacerbate existing gender inequalities.


Photo credit: FAO

Quisumbing, Agnes, Jessica Heckert, Simone Faas, Gayathri Ramani, Kalyani Raghunathan, and Hazel Malapit. "Women’s empowerment and gender equality in agricultural value chains: evidence from four countries in Asia and Africa." Food Security (2021): 1-24.
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