Intersectionality in International Development

Intersectionality “recognizes that a group that inhabits multiple categories simultaneously has experiences that can be seen both as unique to that group and as a result of the overlap of individual categories (Davis, 209).” This concept demonstrates that multiple identities can be reflected on the same person. For example, a person with disabilities can also be a woman who comes from an indigenous community. In international development, to successfully carry out projects, intersectionality needs to be taken into account because it influences individual experiences that determine whether or not a project can be effective. Adoption of this concept can encourage inclusive development but also presents some drawbacks. Recognizing co-existence of identities means that there can be numerous different combinations of identities. The number of combinations can even be countless and creates an endless black hole for understanding of individual identities. What’s more, identity, after all, is a socially constructed concept. How a person perceives himself or herself could be different from the society’s perception. To take every individual’s perception into consideration would endlessly prolong the process of setting up a development project. There is a fine line between the appropriate level of recognizing intersectionality and going too far. Because of this challenge, the first step that can be taken by global policy-makers is to recognize different categories of identities.

The UN major groups and other stakeholders recognize twelve distinct groups of people who play a role in inclusive and sustainable development. One can argue that there is no need of identifying all twelve because some are included in the others. For example, “elderly persons” can be included in “farmers” and “indigenous people.” But this practice would fall into the trap of endless overlaps of identities. It would only slow down the multistakeholder governance process instead of helping it become more efficient. Therefore, it is necessary to expand major groups to other stakeholders like persons with disabilities. In fact, the categories need to be further expanded to meet the goals that reflect inclusiveness in Sustainable Development Goals.

Identifying intersectionality in itself is a grand challenge. It is an issue that is still being debated in the academia. There is not yet a definite answer of how to address it appropriately in international development. One thing that can be done, however, is to recognize more distinct groups of people and organizations that are under the influence of and can contribute to sustainable and inclusive development. This will help mobilize more members of international society to address the grand challenge of conceptualizing intersectionality together.


Work cited

Davis, Aisha Nicole. “Intersectionality and International Law: Recognizing Complex          Identities on the Global Stage.” Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 28 Issue 1, 2015, p205-242.


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