Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore how vulnerabilities arising from physical impairments, age, widowhood, forced displacement due to war or natural disasters and sexual orientation affect women’s microfinance-related entrepreneurial activities and economic empowerment. Design/methodology/approach: This paper is a structured literature review and uses preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) method. The paper also uses agency, resources and achievement dimensions of empowerment to assess the findings. Findings: This study reveals that although microfinance services promote women entrepreneurship, they also exacerbate exclusion and further discrimination. Individual-, household-, institutional- and community-level structures shape women’s agencies to access and use loans and conduct entrepreneurial activities; hence, ultimately economic empowerment. Originality/value: The originality of this paper arises from the conceptual model we synthesised from our review which illustrates how vulnerable women’s agency is shaped by resources and how it affects their achievements in relation to entrepreneurial activities.