Intersectionality in international development is a largely feminist theory, originating in response to the lack of gender sensitivity and overall presence of gender-based inequalities in traditional development approaches. While its roots are in feminism, intersectionality can be and has been extended to cover a larger scope of development topics, including gender, disability, poverty, and age, among others. Basically, intersectionality in development is the idea that there are inevitably crossovers in who and what development agendas seek to address. No person or topic lives in a vacuum, and instead, our population is made up of unique individuals, each with their own complex identity. For example, one female can be hearing impaired and live in poverty, while another female might be visually impaired and homosexual; so while they may have similar gender concerns and even disability concerns, they could also have different disability, economic, and social concerns.
Recently, I have been interning at a development consulting firm on a project based in Ghana that seeks to address private-sector midwives in six of the ten regions in Ghana. While the project is mainly focused on providing these midwives with the business skills needed to run a successful clinic, we also partner with a national midwives association and work to build the capacity of this organization. As an intern with some experience and knowledge in the area of disability, one of my roles has been to support the incorporation of disability into the project. That being said, the concept of intersectionalities in development has been a recurring theme in my research; the intersection being between disability, poverty, and gender, with an added component of maternal concerns. While “general” gender inequalities have been addressed with greater effort and sensitivity in recent years, there remains little to be done for women with disabilities, especially in the area of sexual and reproductive health. I found that there are stigmas around the world that include the perception that PWDs can not have sex, should not have sex, and/or should not be parents. These stigmas contribute to the exclusion of PWDs from learning about sexual health and have led to many unplanned pregnancies, unsafe deliveries, and the spread of STIs, among other issues. This week, one of my supervisors was able to meet with a couple of the leading disabled persons organizations (DPOs) in Ghana to discuss potential training opportunities for midwives so as to provide better services for women with disabilities, among other discussion points. This type of discussion is promising for the future and shows that there is always room for improvement in various disciplines by recognizing and attempting to address intersectionalities in development.
When designing development frameworks, it is important to recognize these intersectionalities so as not to further marginalize populations by ignoring certain groups and/or by unknowingly using language that is too specific and leads to further exclusion. The best way to address these concerns is through discussion between relevant stakeholders, as can subtly be seen with the implementation of the UN Major Groups Framework and invitations to other relevant stakeholders.