The paper explores the limitations of the theoretical presumptions underlying the relationship between empowerment, education and employment that have been emphasized in both the existing literature and the current rhetoric to ‘empower’ women in developing countries. The research uses findings from in-depth interviews and focused group discussion data to empirically examine the relationship between schooling, paid work and empowerment of women in Fiji. The paper argues that the relationship between education, work and empowerment is conditioned by gender norms surrounding women’s and men’s choices on key economic decisions. The findings demonstrate that cultural norms about gender roles are considered to persist, generating gender inequality despite women’s and girl’s education and employment. Empirical evidence makes a strong case for the need to move away from broad-based conceptualizations of women’s empowerment to an analysis of the social construction of gender as both a conceptual and an empirical category of inquiry.