‘Gender equality’ may have made it into the language of mainstream development. But in most parts of the world, inequalities between women and men in the workplace, in political institutions and in the home have proven exasperatingly persistent. For all the valiant efforts that have been made, gender mainstreaming has largely failed live up to its promises. The dilution and depoliticization of the ‘gender agenda’ as it has come to be taken up by development institutions calls for more attention to be paid to what it takes to make a difference to women’s lives. The human rights framework offers an invaluable analytical tool with which to think about what can be done to advance the realization of women’s rights. Its emphasis on the indivisibility, integrality and interdependence of human rights draws attention to the interconnections between different spheres of women’s lives. This paper highlights two ‘entry-level’ rights – women’s rights over their bodies and the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives – which are, it is argued, are fundamental to all other rights. It suggests that greater attention needs to be given to measures that enable women to realise these rights as preconditions for equitable development.