Gender has been conceptualized in various ways in the mainstream governance literature and critical feminist work. The relationship between the concepts of gender and governance can be viewed as governance of gender and gender governance. The governance of gender is related to the way in which the values that permeate governance reflect traditional gender regimes. On the other hand, gender governance concerns governance in policy areas that, in the first instance, directly deal with women's issues. Gender governance is about the attempts to change gender regimes by inserting new policies, procedures, and values through global and multilevel governance, for example via the UN and the EU. In feminist studies that have focused on the state, the literature that is of particular interest to governance studies looks at the role of the state in gender relations. It studies, for example, the representation of women in electoral bodies and parties, theorizes representation in political bodies, and looks at the organization of welfare politics. In the field of international relations, feminist scholars are particularly interested in exploring the gender aspects of globalization and how the neoliberal order organizes women's lives. Governance has also been explored in relation to the EU and the term multilevel governance has become a standard concept in EU studies. The concept gender regime or gender order has been used by many researchers who study gender governance in the EU context.
Competing narratives exist in feminist scholarship about the successes and challenges of women’s activism in a globalized world. Some scholars view globalization as merely another form of imperialism, whereby a particular tradition—white, Eurocentric, and Western—has sought to establish itself as the only legitimate tradition; (re)colonization of the Third World; and/or the continuation of “a process of corporate global economic, ideological, and cultural marginalization across nation-states.” On the other hand, proponents of globalization see opportunity in “the proliferation of transnational spaces for political engagement” and promise in “the related surge in the number and impact of social movements and nongovernmental organizations. Feminist involvement in global governance can be understood by appreciating the context and origins of the chosen for advancing feminist interests in governance, which have changed over time. First wave feminism, describing a long period of feminist activity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, developed vibrant networks seeking to develop strong coalitions, generate broad public consensus, and improve the status of women in society. Second wave feminist concerns dominated the many international conferences of the 1990s, influencing the dominant agenda, the problems identified and discussed, the advocacy tactics employed, and the controversies generated. Third wave feminism focused more on consciousness raising and coalition building across causes and identities.