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Is It Even Feminism If It’s Not Intersectional?

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).

Intersectional Feminism Is The Need Of The Hour – Here's Why
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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.[1]

How Power Structures Overlap To Oppress Individuals

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.[2] 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.

Hathras case: Dalit women are among the most oppressed in the world - BBC News
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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”.

So, How Do We Put Intersectionality Into Practice?

  • Acknowledge And Recognize Discriminations

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.

  • Amplify The Voices Of The Marginalized

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.

Outlook India Photo Gallery - LGBT
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  • Accountability And Data Diversification

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.

  • Collaborate

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.

Transgender bill 2019 will lead to harassment and discrimination allege community members | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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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?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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