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Promise and contradiction: Value chain participation and women’s empowerment


With the expansion of agricultural production for the global market, interest among research and developmentactors in developing more “inclusive” value chains has grown (Stoian et al. 2018a). While mainstream value chain development (VCD) has focused on enhancing the efficiency of processes along the chain, policies increasingly endeavor to address poverty, emphasizing the inclusion of poor and marginalized people in global markets (Bolwig et al. 2010). In recent decades, scholars and development agencies have directed attention toward the “gender gap in agriculture” (Huyer 2016), encompassing, among other things, women’s lesser access to market opportunities and to the benefits from cash crops (Pyburn et al. 2015). As a consequence, agricultural development initiatives increasingly aim to support the engagement of women in agricultural value chains (Sachs 2019). However, while promoting the engagement of women in markets and value chains is becoming entrenched in the global agenda for gender equality (Stoian et al. 2018a), systematic evidence demonstrating causal linkages or laying out a clear theory of change between participation and empowerment remains limited (Said-Allsopp and Tallontire 2014, Johnson et al. 2018).

This chapter places empowerment at the core of our analysis, with the explicit aim of understanding how and under what conditions participation in agricultural value chains can advance or constrain women’s empowerment. Through examining empowerment as a potential outcome of participation, we aim to better understand the nature of empowerment processes in the context of value chains, as well as to discuss the extent to which such processes help catalyze broader structural change. Based on a critical review of the literature, we observe that, while value chain approaches are gaining currency within the global development and gender equality agenda, few studies adopt empowerment as the primary topic of inquiry. Moreover, there is considerable Chapter 4 147 inconsistency in conceptualizing and measuring empowerment in the context of value chains. Evidence linking value chain participation to different dimensions of empowerment is mixed at best. In addition, contextual factors, both within and beyond the value chain, have a strong influence on this link. The following section explains our conceptualization of empowerment and its relation to gender equality in the context of value chains.

Photo credit: Feed the Future


Ihalainen, Markus, Sumer Shaikh, Gaudiose Mujawamariya, Sarah Mayanja, Sounkoura Adetonah, Katie Tavenner, and Marlène Elias. "PROMISE AND CONTRADICTION: VALUE CHAIN PARTICIPATION AND WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT." Advancing gender equality through agricultural and environmental research: Past, present, and future (2021): 147.
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