Dutch development agencies have actively taken up gender mainstreaming strategies since the mid-1990s. This article considers two gender mainstreaming instruments, gender targets and gender assessments, and investigates their transformative effect. A five shifts approach is applied to both the instruments' design on paper and the implementation in practice. The analysis reveals two disconnections, which undermine their transformative potential: between organisational and operational level of policies and between the administrative and conceptual aspects. The emptying and narrowing down of the concept of gender is made possible because the desired transformation of policy is made an individual affair rather than institutional affair. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.