Through the lens of four case studies focused on women’s political participation (Palestine and Sierra Leone), and the passage of domestic violence law (Brazil and South Africa), this paper looks at the role of social and political action in advancing women’s rights. In so doing, the paper assesses how research in fragile and conflict-affected settings might be framed to examine the ways in which social and political action can effect change for women in these contexts. The paper explores change at multiple levels: within, below and beyond the state. It highlights the role of women’s organisations within accountability: in both ensuring delivery on commitments, and tracking their subsequent effective implementation. In conclusion, the paper underlines the importance of understanding the political landscape in which social and political actors operate as a constantly shifting field of action, both contextually and temporally, in which critical junctures aligning particular strategies, tactics, and actors can occur to produce politically meaningful gains. It is in the learning from these junctures on what worked and how, that research can contribute to making positive change in the future.