State feminism captures the emergence of a new set of state–society relations and introduces a gendered view of state action to empirical and comparative analysis. It is based on the expectation that democratic governments, to be successful, can and should promote women's status and rights in relation to men's, however those rights are defined in specific cultural contexts, and should work to undermine the gender-based hierarchies that contribute to enduring sex-based inequities. In other words, the concept is based on the premise that democracies can and should be feminist. As we argue in this chapter, since the mid-1990s, scholars throughout the world have increasingly used state feminism to study the relations between women's movements and women's policy agencies (WPAs) – “state-based mechanisms charged formally with furthering women's status and gender equality” (RNGS 2006: 1). In this view, WPAs are a potential conduit for women's movement actors and ideas to enter the affairs of government and to influence the process of policy formulation and implementation. Such access thus increases the chances to realize the highly transversal and difficult-to-achieve feminist agenda. In its current usage, therefore, state feminism implies a focus on women's policy agencies in relation to women's movements and a complex process that may or may not produce a certain set of explicitly feminist outcomes.
State feminism has not always been associated with WPAs, or, as the United Nations calls them, “national machineries for the advancement of women” (UN 2006).