More than two decades after the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, gender equality policies have not delivered in the ways envisaged. This special cluster of articles seeks to understand why. Women's mobilization and feminist activism was central to the Beijing process and the advocacy that followed, yet their influence on policy processes seems constrained in the current context of global political and economic changes. The articles in this cluster explore the negotiations between different actors, institutions and discourses — and the tensions and contradictions therein — as explanations for why certain domains of women's rights remain at the margins of political agendas and others receive more attention. Specifically, why have women's labour rights and the demands of the unpaid care economy failed to gain policy traction? The articles point to the importance of political practice, which includes the ‘framing’ of policy demands as compelling narratives, engagement with state entities and the forming and managing of alliances. There are trade‐offs inherent in each of these elements, for example, between transformative gender equality objectives and the pragmatic impulse to frame claims in less politically and socially threatening ways. Further, in a context of increasing globalization, mobilization is required at multiple levels — from the local to the transnational. The articles thus seek to deepen our understanding of how policy change for women's rights occurs.