4.2.3. Overview of Disadvantaged Women


Women play a critical role in global economic activity. They are a large and increasing percentage of the world's surveyed waged labor force, with over a one third share in the developing world.[1] In agriculture, women are estimated to produce over 50 percent of all food production.[2] Yet despite representing over half of the world’s population, in many contexts women’s potential economic contribution remains under-developed or unrecognized. Research collected by the Greater Access to Trade Expansion (GATE) project on the agricultural sector has found that women lag behind men in land ownership, access to finance, access to machinery and other inputs, and educational achievements.[3] Gender-based constraints that limit women's role in value chains include the risk of physical, sexual and other gender-based violence, social or cultural confinement and immobility, inadequate legal protection or enforcement of existing laws, traditional gender roles and expectations, inadequate workplace facilities, lack of control over resources (in particular, property), the informal and formal roles and requirements of marriage, and the triple burden of labor.[4]

The impacts of these constraints are large and pervasive. The World Economic Forum has established a correlation between GDP per capita, economic competitiveness and gender equality.[5] Gender inequalities also impact food security. For example, unequal control over household decision-making is estimated to create 13.4 million more undernourished children in South Asia and 1.7 million in sub-Saharan Africa. Children born in families with uneducated mothers are half as likely to go to school as those whose mothers have completed primary school—a finding with wide-reaching economic and social implications.[6] And the World Bank has estimated that women engaged in manufacturing and agricultural value chains would increase their production and incomes by 10% to 20% if they had access to the same knowledge, education and inputs as men do.[7] These gender inequalities affect women differently and unevenly, as women are a diverse group and live in diverse contexts.

Frameworks for Analyzing Gender and Value Chains

Several frameworks assist practitioners to systematically identify gender issues that may limit the overall effectiveness of their value chain development programming and to understand how certain program strategies may propagate existing constraints.

Women's Economic Empowerment in Market Systems Framework

The Women's Economic Empowerment in Market Systems Framework is based on the following: 1. Enhanced access and agency are key indicators of empowerment; 2. gendered rules are a key determinant of access and agency; 3. rules influence and are influenced by multiple subsystems in market systems; 4. non-economic factors are important influencers of access and agency; and 5. the combined effect of both structural transformation and bottom-up change interventions lead to sustained empowerment for women.

USAID's Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI)

USAID's Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) tracks women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas: production, resources, income, leadership, and time use. It also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households, providing a more robust understanding of gender dynamics within households and communities. Download a copy of the Intervention Guide for the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index.

Gender Dimensions Framework

The Gender Dimensions Framework (GDF)[8] is particularly well integrated with the value chain approach. Developed by Development & Training Services for USAID, the GDF looks at four key issues that impact gender throughout a value chain: practices and participation; access to assets; beliefs and perceptions; and laws, policies and institutions. The role of power is examined across all four areas.

CARE's Women's Empowerment in Agriculture

CARE's Women's Empowerment in Agriculture framework is oriented specifically at women involved in agriculture. It includes three dimensions of women's empowerment: agency, relations and structure.[9] These three overarching factors influence women's ability to engage in and benefit from value chains.

Behavior Change Perspectives on Gender and Value Chain Development

Under the direction of ACDI/VOCA and the FIELD-Support Knowledge Series, a team of consultants created and tested a framework for analyzing how gender influences behaviors related to upgrading in three categories: money management, business practices and value chain relationships. The resulting framework and toolkit help practitioners assess gender-based constraints to upgrading and design more effective interventions using this information.

Analytical Tools for Working with Women

Analytical tools for analyzing gender and value chains include:

  • The Integrating Gender Issues into Agricultural Value Chains Process;
  • Gender Equitable Value Chain Action Learning Approach; 
  • The Manual for Gender Mainstreaming; and
  • Behavior Change Perspectives on Gender and Value Chain Development.


  1. S. Gammage, N. Diamond, and M. Packman, Enhancing Women’s Access to Markets: An Overview of Donor Programs and Best Practices, (2005).
  2. M. Williams, Gender Mainstreaming in the Multilateral Trading System: A Handbook for Policy-Makers and Other Stakeholders, London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 2003.
  3. The GATE project is funded by USAID's Office of Women in Development.
  4. UNICEF, Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls, (2000), 2.
  5. R. Hausmann et al, The Global Gender Gap Report: 2009, (2009) 24-26.
  6. UNICEF, The State of the World's Children 2007. Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality, 17.
  7. L. Mayoux, Engendering Benefits For All, (2009).
  8. Development & Training Services, Promoting Gender Equitable Opportunities in Agricultural Value Chains, (2009) 17-24.
  9. CARE, A Place to Grow: Empowering Women in CARE's Agricultural Programming, Briefing Paper, (2009) 8.