This paper investigates the meaning of female empowerment and presents the argument why empowerment is needed. Empowerment is treated as a process which does not stop with empowerment per se, but also looks at what is eventually done with the increased agency. The paper finds that women are generally more constrained than men with regard to access to productive resources such as land, credit or information. Women also face inequalities in the labour market. These inequalities come at a cost to women and other household members. Female empowerment is particular beneficial for children's health, nutrition and education. The paper finds that gender inequalities are widespread and that it is important to consider women's multiple roles as mothers, wives, farmers, entrepreneurs and agents in political life. Moreover the paper presents experiences with, and empirical evidence of, empowerment and its potential effects. Although empowerment can yield positive effects for other household members this result is not automatic but depends on the economic and social environment and the incentive structure which help determine women's achievements. As yet there is no comprehensive theory of all these factors making project planning and policy design difficult.