Womankind Worldwide: Intersectionality 101: What is it and Why is it Important?

Originally posted by Womankind Worldwide.

Bridie Taylor

Intersectionality is a term that’s caught on in the last few years, but what does it even mean and what’s it got to do with women’s rights? This year for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Womankind Worldwide is focusing its activities on intersectionality. So before you start seeing the term all over our website and social media feeds, we’re answering some keys questions you might have.

What is intersectionality?

Put simply, intersectionality is the concept that all oppression is linked. More explicitly, the Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. First coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, intersectionality was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2015 with its importance increasingly being recognised in the world of women’s rights.

So, what’s it got to do with women’s rights?

Without an intersectional lens, our efforts to tackle inequalities and injustice towards women are likely to just end up perpetuating systems of inequalities. Feminist writer Zoe Samudzi reminds us that “intersectionality is such a vital framework for understanding systems of power, because ‘woman’ is not a catchall category that alone defines all our relationships to power”. A black woman may experience misogyny and racism, but she will experience misogyny differently from a white woman and racism differently from a black man. The work towards women’s rights must be intersectional – any feminism that purely represents the experiences of white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual etc. women will fail to achieve equality for all.

What’s intersectionality got to do with violence against women and girls?

To eliminate violence against all women and girls we have to address how violence differs between groups of women, because the violence women and girls experience isn’t just based on their gender. 44% of lesbian women experience intimate partner violence, compared to 35% of heterosexual women. Women and girls with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience domestic violence than women without disabilities. For more information on women with disabilities’ experiences of violence in Nepal, check out ‘Invisible Realities’, a report from Womankind partner Nepal Disabled Women Association.

How does Womankind incorporate intersectionality into its work?

We know that it’s the voices of the most marginalised that are often silenced. We purposefully ensure diversity in our own leadership and in our team while working in solidarity with Women’s Rights Organisations who focus on marginalised women and girls in their communities. For example, in Zimbabwe we partner with Pakasipiti who aim to increase the visibility and improve the lives of lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. In Nepal we partner with Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO) who promote the rights of Dalit women. Intersectionality is also one of the movement strengthening pillars of our Theory of Change. This means each of our projects and initiatives considers issues of intersectionality, and a range of diverse women and their particular needs and priorities inform our work. We strive for an inclusive, feminist movement and we know that means listening to and involving all women, in all their diversities.

What can I do?

No matter how you’re involved in women’s rights, you can always work to be a more intersectional ally. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Check your privilege: And look beyond just skin colour. Middle class? University level education? Able-bodied? Cis-gender? All your social identities play into your ‘privilege’, even if you didn’t ask for it. Reflect on these and consider how this impacts the discriminations you do and don’t experience.

  • Listen and learn: At its very core, intersectionality is about learning and understanding views from other women. Listen to, include and meaningfully collaborate with diverse groups of women. Hear and honour their words. But remember it’s not the responsibility of marginalised groups to do all the work in educating people on their experiences. This often takes up lots of emotional labour and should never be taken for granted so be prepared to help undertake some of the labour by doing your own research.

  • Make space: Ask yourself if you’re the right person to take up space or speak on certain issues. Centre stories and actions on those with the lived experiences. Don’t speak for them, don’t speak over them.

  • Watch your language: So many of the words we use every day are ableist, exclusionary and downright offensive to marginalised communities. When was the last time you said “ah, that’s so lame!” when you were annoyed about something? Consider how someone with a physical impairment might hear this. Recognise and correct your use of such terms. Accept criticism and call others out. As we become more intersectional and better at understanding differences, our language evolve to simply reflecting experiences from people of a singular identity.

What can women’s rights practitioners and donors do?

In funding and designing programmes to support women’s rights, Womankind recommends that women’s rights practitioners and donors take an intersectional approach to women’s rights. This can include:

  • Ensuring diverse women and women’s rights organisations closest to the ground take the lead in project design and implementation.

  • Recognising and trusting the expertise and lived experiences of women’s rights organisations and women’s movements, especially those representing marginalised women.

  • Funding diverse women’s rights organisations and women’s movements to facilitate safe spaces where particularly marginalised communities can feel empowered to speak freely.

For more recommendations for intersectional movement strengthening, take a read through our new learning paper ‘Making Visible: The Lived Realities of LBTQI+ across Nepal, Uganda and Zimbabwe’. We’ve launched the paper as part of our 16 Days 2019 activities to highlight the need for an intersectional approach to women’s rights programming and funding.

Original post can be found here.