Intersectionality is a theory coined by race theorist and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, that states that related systems of oppression and discrimination intersect with multiple identities to create a whole that is different from the individual components. For example, if someone is a woman with disabilities, those two identities are compounded and the systems of oppression interrelate. This intersection of identity makes women with disabilities more vulnerable because they are doubly excluded from the economic sector, education, and health care, as well as doubly excluded socially. Because they systems of oppression interrelate, it is very hard to separate identities. The theory of intersectionality allows us to understand the additional challenges of persons with multiple identities that are discriminated against. However, though intersectionality is recognized as an incredibly important theory, many institutions have not put the implications of the theory into practice and tried to fight the interrelated systems of oppression. The theory of intersectionality has also been used by some institutions to marginalize some identities.
The United Nations is an example of an institution that has used intersectionality in order to exclude some groups from participating. In the UN there are 9 major groups which are allowed to participate in sustainable development initiatives and the review and creation of those initiatives. The 9 major groups are allowed to participate in the high level political forum which was created to implement and review the SDGs. However, persons with disabilities and older persons are not part of the major groups which means they do not get a seat at the table. When activists brought this concern to the UN, the UN argued that due to intersectionality, the 9 major groups were already fighting for persons with disabilities and older persons because the women’s group would fight for women with disabilities and the farmer’s group would fight for farmers with disabilities and so on. However, the groups already have set agendas which may or may not include older persons and persons with disabilities. Relying on the groups’ intersectionality is not the most effective way to ensure persons with disabilities and older persons get a seat at the table. Intersectionality is a useful theory but it is not a silver bullet that automatically reduces oppression just by being mentioned or understood. Action must be taken to put the theory in to practice, but intesectionality should not be put into practice in such a way that it excludes already marginalized populations.