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Gendered Enterprise and Markets (GEM)

Mercianne Uwamwezi, community facilitator and pineapple farmer in Matimba, northern Rwanda. Credit: Simon Rawles/Oxfam

At a glance

GEM is Oxfam's cutting edge gendered market system approach to sustainable livelihoods development. Visit our community of practice.


The Gendered Enterprise and Markets (GEM) programme is a cutting-edge market system approach to sustainable livelihoods development. It brings together our experience and expertise in three areas:

Join our community of practice: Women's Economic Empowerment in Agriculture.

The GEM solution

In many developing countries power imbalances between different market actors, or environmental risks (such as drought, flooding or climate change), can prevent marginalised smallholders from accessing and thriving within their local or national agricultural market economies. Entrenched gender inequality means that women find it especially hard to gain positions in markets, especially within the more profitable activities around processing and trading.

The GEM solution

The real value of the GEM programme is that, for the first time, we are consolidating our considerable experience and expertise across three critical areas affecting enterprise and market system development. This will significantly improve the impact and scale of our work with marginalised smallholders.

The three critical areas are:

1.  Power in markets  For over 20 years, Oxfam has been developing approaches to address power imbalances between smallholders and other agricultural market actors. Working collectively increases the power of smallholders and so we support the organisational development of community groups, business enterprises, co-operatives, and unions. We also facilitate multi-stakeholder platforms, to influence local and national government, private sector companies, and other market actors, by showing both the specific and wider socio-economic benefits of investment in smallholder agriculture.

2. Women's economic leadership (WEL) Since 2008, Oxfam has been developing a methodology for programme design to better identify and address power imbalances between men and women in agricultural markets. WEL is about selecting market sub-sectors, or roles, that have the most potential to increase women's power in market activities, as well as at a household and community level. WEL promotes gender equality in economic decision-making and roles for smallholder women that go beyond production, into more profitable and less risky market activities.

3. Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction For many years, Oxfam has worked with smallholder communities to help them set up their own systems to identify, assess, monitor, mitigate, respond or adapt to environmental risks such as natural disasters (eg floods, or drought) and, more recently, longer-term gradual changes caused by climate change (eg temperature increase or decrease in rainfall).

Since smallholders' limited assets are vulnerable to environmental changes, participating in agricultural markets can be a risky business if existing, or emerging, hazards are not adequately addressed (eg appropriate crop selection based on information about climate changes, or vulnerability to disasters).

Project examples

India: Over the past decade, we've developed a cotton textile supply-chain project in southern India. This combines activities such as training in sustainable organic farming practices, forming an 8,000-member community enterprise, and facilitating buying relationships with an international retail company and India's largest cotton processor. In the project's first seven years, the producers' net profits from cotton sales grew by 112%. 

Colombia: A dairy company was reluctant to pay for training for women smallholders. When we demonstrated that women were responsible for cleaning milking utensils on farms supplying milk the company agreed to invest in hygiene training. By formalising their market role the women increased their political power and generated additional income, while the company improved the quality of its products, increasing sales and profit.

Uganda: Dorothy Musoke, a smallholder farmer in Kasese, Uganda, noticed an increased variability in seasonal patterns. With support from Oxfam she has adapted her farm to manage the more frequent rains and is trialling new crops to manage increasing periods of drought, offering her and her family hope in the face of future uncertainty.

Knowledge hub

Our community of practice, the Women's Economic Empowerment in Agriculture knowledge hub, is a space for ongoing dialogue on Oxfam's and other practitioner's experiences in promoting women smallholders' economic leadership in agricultural markets to facilitate sharing of good practices and influence wider agricultural investment in the development community.

The website includes further examples of initiatives at Oxfam that are currently promoting WEL as well as resources and tools for WEL programme design.

Grow. Sell. Thrive

The Women's Economic Empowerment in Agriculture knowledge hub brings together gender and livelihoods practitioners from across Oxfam and beyond. 

Sign up now to connect to others working in your area, access our tools and resources, increase the visibility of your programme and request peer support.