The Participatory Development (PD) approach aims at improving the quality of governance by empowering local populations. Particularly for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), PD is regarded an opportunity to help shift from unjustified centralization to more decentralized forms of governance. Yet, PD projects are frequently fraught with undesired effects of elite capture which critics ascribe to insufficient appreciation of local context. Our study adopts a sequential quantitative–qualitative mixed method approach to broaden the empirical foundation needed for context sensitive project design. By exploring the effects of gender and employment on community participation we contribute to narrowing two research gaps: First, political science research on female participation in SSA has mostly focused on participation in national-level processes. Second, while development economics literature has devoted much attention on effects of female employment on intra-household bargaining, it has so far omitted the question what this means for the empowerment of women beyond the household, that is in the public life of their communities. Analyzing original survey data of over 1,300 respondents, collected across four urban municipalities in Togo, we find that unemployment negatively impacts community participation. Specifically, we show that this effect is mainly driven by female unemployment and establish self-efficacy driven by norm perception as the causal link between female employment and participation. Complementing our quantitative findings with data from 98 qualitative interviews, we show that employment constitutes an important psychological resource that enables women to overcome multiple discrimination barriers to community participation. However, this effect is stronger for women in a formal employment situation than for those working in less formalized settings. We conclude that gender-targeted employment interventions can help to increase community participation. We recommend that such efforts should not fixate on the creation of female job opportunities but also seek to strengthen the role of female informal workers in local political processes.