Intersectionality is an analytic framework created by Black legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw that shows how interlocking systems of power can impact the most marginalized in a community. More specifically, Crenshaw explained how the combined effects of racism and sexism affected African-American women in the 1980’s. In other words, intersectionality shows how multiple identities can combine and determine how a person experiences oppression. These identities include those related to age, gender, race or ethnicity, economic status, and level of education. Moreover, intersectionality illustrates how different identities can overlap and ultimately impact inclusive sustainable development. Essentially, identities cannot be viewed in a vacuum because they all relate to and impact one another. In other words, carrying multiple intersectionalities may make more individuals vulnerable to environmental stressors than others. Recognizing intersectionality within inclusive sustainable development brings these challenges to the forefront of the conversations, while also encouraging strategy and policy makers to consider intersectional identity and the challenges that they face.
In the context of inclusive sustainable development, intersectional approaches are critical to developing programming and solutions to solve problems. Without recognizing the complexity of identity, creating viable solutions that benefit all is challenging. This can be exemplified when looking at the intersectionality of disability and gender. A woman with a disability in a country that has conservative gender role may not have the opportunity to go to school. If it does, she may face physical barriers to her education because the schools within her area are not disability inclusive. Ultimately, this individual is not only oppressed because of her gender, but is physically limited within schools because of her disability. Moreover, when looking at the UN Major Groups Framework, it is evident that there are groups formulated based off of identity. These groups represent women, children and youth, NGOs, and indigenous groups, to name a few. Yet, it is important to recognize that within these groups there are other compounding identities present. For example, among indigenous groups there are also indigenous people with disabilities, and of all ages and genders. Therefore, when considering inclusive sustainable development, it is critical to understand and provide for the complex intersectionality of identity.