The paper has a number of aims. First it will examine how empowerment has been conceptualised in the field of gender and development as well as the emergence of an explicit concern with women’s economic empowerment. The concern with women’s economic empowerment takes us very directly into the domain of labour markets and livelihoods through which most women gain access to economic resources. Secondly, it examines alternative theoretical approaches to labour market gender inequalities, teasing out some of the overlaps between these approaches but also their differences. These alternative approaches can be seen as helping to frame a future research agenda since they represent different ways of understanding how women’s economic empowerment is likely to play out empirically. Thirdly, it reviews some of the empirical literature on gender and labour markets in order to draw out what they tell us about the blockages and barriers to women’s progress within the economy and about policies and programmes that can help to overcome them. Given IDRC’s programmatic concerns, the main focus here will be on women’s waged labour and off-farm enterprise. Finally, it identifies key research questions that could form the basis of a programme of policy-oriented research on women’s economic empowerment.