A decade after the United Nations conferences on gender equality and social development, this paper explores their policy origins and discusses their differential impact on international aid since 1995. The author draws on her direct experience to consider why Copenhagen led to Poverty Reduction Strategies and the first Millennium Development Goal whereas Beijing has become largely invisible in the mainstream world of aid. She argues that the powerful influence of economic rational choice theory associated with bureaucratic modes of thought has meant that the central debate in development policy has remained that of growth versus equity. Beijing’s agenda of societal transformation offered another paradigm of development that has remained marginal. The paper concludes with a proposal. If international aid policy could handle more than one paradigm and thus be more open to different ways of thinking about economy, society and politics, aid agencies would be better able to support transformative processes for social justice.