While security and women’s empowerment are both prominent development concerns, there has to date been little sustained analysis of the relationship between the two. An unexamined assumption appears to be that insecurity – violence and rights abuses – prevent women from gaining power over their lives through full social, economic or political participation. But how and how much does insecurity structure women’s agency? In which domains and contexts are these insecurities prominent? And what are the policy and practical implications of the relationship between women’s security and processes of empowerment in contemporary developing countries? This paper reports on an effort to derive lessons about how security and insecurity shape processes of women’s empowerment in developing countries through a thematic synthesis of a collection of research outputs from a five-year programme of research on the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment. The programme covered four broad thematic areas: voice (political mobilisation), paid work, body (or changing narratives of sexuality) and concepts of empowerment. Some 115 outputs, including both conceptual and empirical work, were included in the review. The synthesis is not a systematic review (it did not review work outside the Pathways collection nor select papers according to quality or other criteria) but drew on thematic synthesis methodologies as used in the systematic reviews of qualitative data.