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Women's Economic Leadership (WEL)

Belaynesh (foreground) and Bayush (background) with a machine that shells groundnuts at the Assosa Edible Oil Processing Facility, part of the Assosa Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Union. (Ethiopia, 2010)

At a glance

Women's Economic Leadership or WEL means women gaining the economic and social power to move out of poverty and change attitudes and beliefs.


Women's Economic Leadership or WEL means women gaining economic and social power to move out of poverty. In practical terms, this means:

  • Securing economic resources
  • Gaining power in markets
  • Changing attitudes and beliefs to enable equal relations with men and in economic decision making

Our starting point for promoting WEL is one of rights. Women have the right to participate equally and fully and enjoy equal control in the economy. We also base our work on a fundamental economic argument that gender inequality slows economic growth, and conversely, gender equality can increase the productivity of investments in agriculture and other livelihoods initiatives.

Women economic leaders can be producers, entrepreneurs or waged workers.

WEL in agriculture

Women small-scale producers are central to meeting the growing global demand for food and are increasingly involved in agricultural markets in developing countries. But, compared to men, women often face poor access to the services and resources needed to compete in agricultural markets. As a result, their engagement in markets does not necessarily result in increased incomes and control over assets.

Programmes that aim to promote WEL in agricultural markets aim to:

  • Enable smallholder women to access markets independently and equitably
  • Enhance their ability to decide how resources get invested in agriculture at household level and beyond
  • Make women smallholder's economic contribution more visible
  • Incorporate a long-term strategy for facilitating systemic change with many value-chain stakeholders - such as traders, processors, exporters, government authorities and producer organisations by transforming gender roles and relations in agricultural markets and raising women's share of the benefits from agricultural development.

Women's collective action

Collective action holds great promise for multitudes of women whose primary livelihood is dependent on their ability to farm the land and access markets. Launched in December 2009 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Researching Women's Collective Action project gathered evidence on effective ways of organising for women smallholders to enhance their incomes, asset ownership and empowerment. 

The research focused on one sub-sector per focus country; honey in Ethiopia, shea butter in Mali and vegetables in Tanzania. It also identified and promoted innovations and effective support strategies for women's collective action.

Our findings provide substantial new evidence of the type and extent of benefits women gain from collective action in specific agricultural markets. We found that women farmers acting collectively earn approximately 70-80% more income than those trading independently. However empowerment benefits are inconsistent, often due to wider social and political issues not yet addressed. The evidence is intended to influence development actors to support producer organizations and collective action in more effective ways and to highlight gaps in both current practice, and the policy environment to enable such forms of action.

Please visit the Researching Women's Collective Action wiki for more information on this project.

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