Is it possible to secure the desired policy action ‘infusing’ gender into existing ways of doing and organising things – and by so doing to incrementally secure real gains for women? Or will transformative policies for women's empowerment only be achieved through discursive and organisational transformation? But can the two be separated so neatly? Are there possibly unpredictable effects when feminist policy actors are on the one hand committed to changing discourse and power relations while on the other hand acting pragmatically to secure small instrumental changes? Taking international development organisations as the field of analysis, this article examines assumptions about policy change as a pathway of women's empowerment and goes on to explore a shift from a focus on institutional capability to one on actors and agency, and on strategies, tactics and manoeuvres.