This paper looks at the use of intersectionality in promoting women’s rights. Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, advocacy and policy development that addresses multiple discriminations. It increases understanding of the ways in which gender intersects with other identities and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.
Intersectionality is a feminist theory, a methodology for research, and a springboard for a social justice action agenda. It starts from the premise that people live multiple, layered identities derived from social relations, history and the operation of structures of power. Intersectional analysis aims to reveal multiple identities, exposing the different types of discrimination and disadvantage that occur as a consequence of the combination of identities. It aims to address the manner in which racism, patriarchy, class oppression and other systems of discrimination create inequalities that structure the relative positions of women. It takes account of historical, social and political contexts and also recognises unique individual experiences resulting from the coming together of different types of identity.
As a consequence of their multiple identities, some women are pushed to the extreme margins and experience profound discriminations while others benefit from more privileged positions. Intersectional analysis:
- Enables assessment of the impact of converging identities on opportunities and access to rights, and of how policies, services and laws that impact on one aspect of our lives are inextricably linked to others.
- Focuses on specific contexts and the qualitative aspects of equality, discrimination and justice.
- Does not require a person to slot themselves into a rigid category in order to seek redress.
- Helps to link the grounds of discrimination (e.g. race, gender, etc.) to the social, economic, political and legal environment that contributes to discrimination.
Intersectionality helps to reveal the full complexity and specificity of women’s rights and development issues, including the interplay of different policies and institutions. It:
- Facilitates focus on points of intersection, complexity, dynamic processes, and the structures that define access to rights and opportunities, rather than on defined categories or isolated issue areas.
- Entails valuing a ‘bottom-up’ approach to research, analysis and planning. Research should begin by asking about how people live. The picture can then be built upwards, accounting for the influences that shape women’s lives.
- Must be informed by the experiences of women from a spectrum identities, including women in the global South and also women of colour and immigrant women in the global North.
- Involves allocating resources to those who are most marginalised when setting priorities for projects.
Key questions that can inform analysis and planning are:
- What forms of identity are critical organising principles for this community/region (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, age, caste, ability)?
- Who are the most marginalised women, girls, men and boys in the community and why?
- What social and economic programmes are available to different groups in the community?
- Who does and does not have access or control over productive resources and why?
- Which groups have the lowest and the highest levels of public representation and why?
- What laws, policies and organisational practices limit the opportunities of different groups?
- What opportunities facilitate the advancement of different groups?
- What initiatives would address the needs of the most marginalised or discriminated groups in society?