Throughout sub-Saharan Africa there are a number of initiatives aiming to improve the effectiveness of staple crop value chains as part of a broader discourse around markets and poverty reduction. Staple crops, such as cassava, are often considered as an entry point for targeting market interventions to the rural poor, particularly women. However, initial findings from fieldwork in Nigeria and Malawi show a much more complex picture of the role of cassava and cassava markets in men and women’s livelihoods, which varies by location, ethnicity, and life-stage of individuals. The concept of women’s empowerment, as defined by access to resources, agency, and achievements, is used in this analysis to understand these dynamics. The analysis reveals gender inequalities that can limit the ability of women to benefit from growing market opportunities. Simply targeting value chains that involve the participation of women may not benefit women de facto over time. These initial findings stress the importance of questioning our assumptions in development discourse on markets, gender (in)equality, and poverty alleviation.