The articles published in this special journal issue examine how global ideas about women's rights actually get used in four contexts – China, India, Peru and the United States. Our findings result from collaborative research conducted by teams in each country. We call the process of appropriation and local adoption of globally generated ideas and strategies vernacularization. In each country, vernacularization differed depending on the contents of the global women's rights packages at play, the work of vernacularizers and the different social positions they occupy, how human rights ideas are framed, the channels and technologies of transmission, and the local geographies of history and culture within which circulation and vernacularization take place. We find that vernacularization is a widespread practice that takes different forms in different kinds of organizations and in different cultural and historical contexts. Ongoing tensions between global and national rights ideas are quite common. Finally, our work brings to light two dilemmas in the way human rights are appropriated and used – a resonance dilemma and an advocacy dilemma – both arising from the disparity between human rights as law and human rights as a social movement.