Gender mainstreaming emerged in the mid-1990s as an innovative and controversial policy tool for reducing gender inequalities. The European Union seeks to propagate the practice of gender mainstreaming both within EU institutions and among member states. Feminist scholars and policy elites discuss and debate gender main-streaming widely, but have yet to consider how local feminist activists, who could play a central role in diffusing gender mainstreaming, understand, interpret and respond to this agenda. This paper examines whether and why local feminist movements in two cities in eastern Germany adopt gender mainstreaming. Consideration of the characteristics of the contexts in which local feminist movements are embedded clarifies the conditions under which social movements rally round new policy paradigms.