Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Coined by American civil rights activist Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, in 1989, intersectionality is defined as the study of overlapping social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. According to this intersectional theory, all biological, social, and cultural categories interact on multiple levels and come together to shape how a person experiences oppression. Therefore we can use this framework to better understand how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis. Having a good grasp on the issue of intersectionality is crucial for international development because as the international community looks to address distinct problem areas they need to be able to understand how different social identities affect project outcomes and how their projects need to be structured in such a way that they take into account issues of intersectionality to avoid narrow thinking. When the complexity of this issue is not taken into account, the solutions tend to be temporary because they are not made to adapt to the intersecting systems and therefore they are short lasting.

All of the SDGs are affected by intersectionality. In fact, there is truly no issue in today’s world that is not. However, one clear example is SDG 4 that looks at quality education. Usually, in the field of development the goal is to increase enrollment. However, in order to do so and in order for the education to be effective once all children are attending, the different groups such as girls, minorities and persons with disabilities need to be included and accounted for. If this is not the case, then the successful increase in enrollment will not be as impactful or effective if certain groups are being excluded from the benefits. Currently, the issue of education for PWDs is being more actively addressed and it has been recognized internationally that schools need to be able to accommodate all because education is a basic right of every child including those with disabilities (UNICEF). Ensuring that girls are being given the opportunity to attend school is also an issue that in recent years has received increased attention. Yet improvement can still be made when it comes to combining such efforts. Directing projects specifically at these groups is important because they have been ignored for such a large part of history. However, we need to step away from simply fixing our neglection mistakes of the past and take the next step forward. We need to combine our efforts by recognizing how all the different issue areas interrelate and impact one another.

Given the direction in which international development efforts are moving, it appears as though more conscious efforts will be made to address intersectionality. Increasingly, marginalized groups are highlighting the importance of joining efforts. With little time to waste, it is crucial that intersectionality be addressed and implemented into development projects, and the international community is definitely realizing this and coming onboard with it.