As firm advocates and believers of inclusivity, diversity and participation, we as development practitioners constantly push for programs, interventions and even discussions that incorporate intersectionality within its core dimensions. For years of learning and unlearning has taught us that nothing exists in silos, and people’s lived experiences of discriminations and disadvantages are crucial to understanding the complexity of prejudices they face. But what is intersectionality and why does it even matter?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasizes equality of opportunity and reducing inequality of outcomes, the elimination of discrimination in law, policy and social practice, and socio-economic inclusion of all (irrespective of sex, age, disability, language, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, caste, class and others).
However, globally, we have seen a rise in inequalities as some groups continue to move forward while many others are left behind. The inequality differs from person to person and almost anything and everything can marginalize people. This is where the concept of intersectionality comes into the picture. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
Simply put, intersectionality tries to examine how different forms of discrimination interact, compound and further marginalize a person or population. It means that these forms of discrimination overlap with each other and with existing systems of power to inform oppression leading to multiple levels of marginalization.
Let us take a look at income inequality for example. Numerous statistics show that women still get paid less for the same work done by a man. This reduces further as the woman gets older, it even multiplies with other factors such as poverty, child-rearing, disability among others. Now, if you add other structures such as race, caste and sexuality, it becomes even worse. We tend to view class inequality and income inequality separately, however, what we often tend to miss is how some people could actually be subjected to all of these and that in turn could affect their ability to access resources and opportunities.
It is, therefore, crucial for us to recognize and explore diversity within marginalized groups. In terms of marginalities, historically as we have seen, a woman from the Dalit community may have lesser access to resources, may face more roadblocks to achieve success and may be more vulnerable to violence and discrimination as opposed to women from an upper caste.
However, a Dalit woman with a disability is likely to face even more obstacles and challenges in comparison to a Dalit woman without a disability. She will face quadruple oppression in the form of class, caste, ability and gender. In fact, the ladder of suppression goes deeper. A trans-Dalit woman would be even more marginalized, a trans-Dalit woman with disability being at the extreme end of the line.
If we look at the current situation, the raging pandemic has left us all devastated, helpless and furious. Recent assessments have indicated that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations. The more vulnerable are the ones who have lesser access to resources. Physical distancing too is a privilege. In fact, this “social distancing” has resulted in new forms of othering. The resource-poor populations, individuals with disabilities, women and others are more vulnerable to the compounding effects of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis gives us an opportunity to understand the “multi-dimensional basis to peoples’ lived experiences”.
The first step towards creating a more inclusive and diverse society is to acknowledge and recognize different forms of systemic discriminations that become a barrier to opportunities. It is also equally important to accept that different forms of discriminations intersect at multiple levels which present unique challenges for each individual. No lived experience is the same.
Respect, acknowledge and recognize the voices of the marginalized. Step aside and let them claim their space. We must promote and support these voices by incorporating them into policies and practices. For example, a policy aimed at improving access to healthcare facilities should be co-created by including the voices of women, trans people, individuals with disabilities or guardians of individuals with disabilities, Dalit and Muslim women, sex workers, individuals from the LGBTQIA+ communities among others. Support their movement.
Data collection processes need to be created to incorporate the nuances of the lived experiences of the individuals with intersectional identities, currently such processes focus on certain aspects of their identities. It is important to push for data collection processes that integrate these voices and experiences and further reflect it to present a “reality” that is more in line with the actual on-ground reality.
Accountability should be sought from the government, companies and individuals at the centre of the decision-making process. The spectrum of intersectionality is constantly evolving and in order for these institutions to be held accountable, extensive capacity-building sessions need to take place.
Collaborations with diverse sectors and communities on a range of issues will encourage multi-pronged interventions and inclusive solutions leading to sustainable transformative change. It leads to strengthened networks and allyship.
These steps are mere guidelines to initiate intersectionality. We are aware that the present world poses a lot of challenges to this concept. This stems from the fact that this concept tries to challenge the status quo, it tries to push the marginalized narratives into the mainstream. However, this process inherently also relies on the unity of the movements of the marginalized.
The advocates of intersectionality sometimes may undermine the concept by creating a slightly exclusionary space for other marginal groups. A recent example that comes to mind is how some contemporary feminists don’t view the struggle for trans rights as an integral part of feminism. This means that a queer group that should have ideally found resonance in the feminist movement faces discrimination from the latter. It not just undermines their own individual movements but further creates hurdles to achieving an unsegregated world.
These movements started individually, have evolved significantly over the last few decades as has the concept of intersectionality especially with the narratives of the LGBTQIA+ communities and the disability spheres coming to the forefront. We understand that the intersectionality sphere is very complex and that at the base of all these movements, is a struggle to redistribute the status quo of power which currently rests in the hands of a few. There have been great strives yet on a micro-level these groups still have to face the same discrimination from people who haven’t yet comprehended the need to include a narrative on intersectionality in their lives.
Conservatism is not only on the rise; it has dominated the narratives over the last few years and a lot of important work done by advocates of intersectionality and social inclusion has been rendered redundant. But this retaliation is not something out of the norm, the populace which holds the power has always pushed back when under threat. How we address this pushback is the key question that needs answering to.
We believe that intersectionality will play a huge role in changing this mindset. We already have guidelines and rules around sexual harassment, child protection in workspaces among others. Similarly, guidelines and sessions around the concepts of intersectionality need to be pushed actively. Not as sessions of what not to do but rather conversations around what this is all about.
This is merely an amalgamation of thoughts that both of us have put together. We are in no way experts and we consider ourselves active learners who understand that this world is diverse and marginalized spaces are actively being subdued. We want their voices to be at the forefront of our narrative.
Unity of the masses is only possible if we take the concept of intersectionality seriously. The other side is united in overtly and covertly subduing the voices of the marginalized. Our only question is if they can be united then why can’t we?