Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a diversity and inclusion training focused on the theory of Intersectionality. This particular theory of identity was one that moved to the forefront in studying identity, as it conceptually makes the most sense to me. I often envision identity as a set of moving plates that shift, rotate, and replace one another within a given context. For example, my identity as a woman shifts to the forefront in my male-dominated workplace. However, that same identity transitions into the background as my identity age is brought forward in the context of my five-year master’s program.
This notion of shifting and changing is particularly relevant to how i think about my work in international development. Particularly in my work with inclusive education, accounting for differences in identity that impact the educational process. The majority of my work focuses on children with disabilities and ensuring they have access to meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities. Yet, the approach to educating an individual is vastly different depending on additional aspects of their identity. For example, I focus on the Romanian context in much of my research due to my experience there. The country is home to a vast population of ethnic Roma people, over 600,000 according to estimates from Romanian Insider. (Though the Roma population throughout Europe is well-established also.) Studies have shown that the Roma are disproportionately impacted by the prevalence of disability and illness, due to a number of environmental, social, and economic factors. This population is also widely discriminated against in society, stereotyped as illiterate beggars and burdens to society. As a result, disabled Roma face an entirely new set of barriers to inclusion, with many Roma children being fully excluded from the educational system, regardless of being disabled or not.
As such, this population faces a dual discrimination in education which may be exacerbated further by gender, disparities in language ability, socioeconomic status and access, etc. As a result, the phenomenon of intersectionality makes designing universally accessible education programming a difficult feat, both within this context and others. Yet, in order to ensure inclusive education for all, these intersections have to be studied, accounted for, and addressed. Without careful consideration and knowledge, policymakers and advocates run the risk of excluding certain populations from the development conversation. The United Nations, in it’s Millenium Development Report, has identified so called “vulnerable populations” and the “disabled” as key groups to include in the development process moving forward. Thus, the push for sustainable and inclusive education continues on. However, a failure to recognize intersectionalities in the process will severely stunt potential growth in developing nations. As such, policy makers must be vigilant and think critically about how best to address intersections in identity.