Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality is the idea that social identities such as race, class, gender, religion are fundamentally interconnecting and compound with one another to create systems of advantage, disadvantage, and discrimination. Personally, the concept of intersectionality is essential to a complete understanding of society as a whole, in that, systematic injustice in addition to social inequality can be best understood by examining the intersections of identity. For example, issues of gender can be compounded with issues of race in class. In American society, racial discrimination of Black Americans can be compounded with the gender based discrimination faced by women within American society to result in Black American women having a less privileged status than that of a white man.

In terms of the importance of intersectionality in the field of international development, intersectional approaches are critical to understand how compounding identities can fundamentally disadvantage some populations within societies, and advantage others. This approach is crucial in understanding why certain populations get left behind in the development plans of nations. When the intersections of, for example, poverty and indigenous heritage are not considered within the development plan of states, discrimination of indigenous people can be two fold in that indigenous populations might be stigmatized by majority ethnic populations, and might have fewer employment opportunities as a result.

This places enormous pressure on the importance of intersectional approaches for international organizations like the United Nations. While intersectionalility as a mainstream social theory is relatively young, there has been a concerted effort to incorporate the concept into the governance structure of the UN. For example, within the HLPF, there are 9 major groups that permitted to participate in proceedings. The nine major groups represent different communities and populations and were formed with the goal of incorporating a wide variety of perspectives into agenda setting and decision-making. The nine major groups are 1) Women, 2) Children and Youth, 3) Indigenous Peoples, 4) Non-Governmental Organizations, 5) Local Authorities, 6) Workers and Trade Unions, 7) Business and Industry, 8) Scientific and Technological Community, and 9) Worker and Trade Unions. While there are certainly limitations to the number of perspectives that are truly able to be incorporated into the UN in the limitation of the major groups to nine, the inclusion of the groups marks a step in the right direction for intersectionality in governance institutions.

One thought on “Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

  1. I agree with your idea that including more groups is moving towards the right direction in terms of intersectionality. In order for intersectionality to become more than an academic idea and be integrated into policy-making, advocacy groups need to include this in their strategies. Cooperation and connection between major groups will also help intersectionality be incorporated as a policy consideration.


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