Pathways to Prosperity: Understanding Women’s Rural Transitions and Service Needs

  • Date Posted: January 3, 2020
  • Authors: Marketlinks Team
  • Document Types: Evidence or Research
  • Donor Type: Foundation


Mwanaidi shows her grandson the African nightshade seeds she harvested from her garden in Tanzania. Photo Credit: Rhiannon O'Sullivan, World Vegetable Center
Photo Credit: Rhiannon O'Sullivan, World Vegetable Center

This post introduces the gender deep-dive follow-up from the 2019 Pathways to Prosperity report.

Anchored in the research and models presented in the Pathways to Prosperity report, this deep dive explores the specific considerations that service providers and donors need to take into account when looking to support different pathway transitions for rural women. This research draws from the latest global literature and the perspectives of a range of leading practitioners and seeks to spark a new conversation around viable pathways to prosperity for rural women as they transition through different life stages. This post was originally made available by the USAID Learning Lab and ISF Advisors

The full report is available below to read and download. 

The Global Gender Challange

Despite their vital role in the development and transformation of rural economies, women continue to have unequal access to opportunities that help them build resilient livelihoods and realize their economic potential. In 40 of the 95 countries surveyed by McKinsey, gender inequality remains extremely high or high across several indicators, namely aspects of work, maternal mortality, legal protection and the political voice, and violence against women. Women are half the world’s working-age population but generate only 37% of the global GDP. Women’s unpaid care work is not counted in traditional measures of GDP; if it were, estimates place it at roughly 13% of global GDP. The economic size of the gender gap is only part of a larger divide that affects society in myriad ways. The role of women in agriculture is vital and growing in many countries around the world. In developing countries, 79% of economically active women report that their primary activity is agriculture. Women account for the largest share of farmworkers, although their labor is often non-wage-based, performed at home, and within small-scale agricultural systems. African women provide between 60% and 90% of subsistence agricultural labor. They contribute to 90% of food processing, fetching water, and fuel; 80% of food storage and transport; 90% of work hoeing and weeding; and 60% of harvesting. Yet women are significantly less likely to be the owners of the land that they work on or have access to productive assets and services, such as agricultural inputs or extension and training services. It is estimated that if women had equal access to productive assets, yields could increase between 20% and 30% per household.

In the recently released Rural and Agricultural Finance State of the Sector Report: Pathways to Prosperity, a new approach to customer segmentation—based on smallholder rural transition pathways—was proposed. The rural pathways model moves us from a static understanding of rural households based on their characteristics at a particular moment, toward a dynamic view of how households and their needs might evolve over time. This model lays out the different transition pathways rural households may take as they pursue increased resilience and agency through various livelihood strategies.

These pathways coalesce around four centers of gravity: 1) farming as a business; 2) rural services; 3) rural labor; and 4) urban migration. Over the course of a lifetime, a single household may move forward or backward along a pathway, change pathways entirely, or simultaneously pursue multiple pathways. By mapping out the likely transition points for rural households, financial service providers will be able to create a strategy for engagement that delivers the right services at the right time. At a foundational level, women have the same set of rural transition pathway options as men. They can stay in farming (pathways 1-4), move into rural entrepreneurship services (pathway 4-5), become rural workers (pathway 6), or migrate to urban areas (pathway 7). However, women often face significant barriers in accessing the skills, networks, and assets needed to transition through rural pathways—limiting their agency and mobility across different livelihood strategies. With this in mind, in this deep dive, we treat women as a particular client segment and consider how they may need to be served differently within different pathways.

Within the rural pathways framework, women face many of the same challenges faced by the broader rural population: challenging economics of smallholder farming and agricultural value chains in general; an often weak enabling environment; a relatively underdeveloped rural market and services economy; limited financial resources available for entrepreneurship and investment; and limited market access opportunities. But rural women face a wider range of constraints and structural challenges that arise from the environments in which they live. These constraints fall into three categories—educational, socio-cultural, and legal—and have a substantial impact on women’s ability to access education, entrepreneurship or employment opportunities, and financial services.

Access the full publication below or on the report website.