Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

The term intersectional has become quite a buzzword in the development community. It is used often by humanitarians, organizations and to describe projects. When a word becomes so prominent in a community, at times it can lose its original meaning or purpose. Intersectionality originated in academic communities as a way to explain the dual discrimination that African American women faced in the United States.  That being said, intersectionality in sustainable development is very important framework to consider and can benefit many if understood correctly by development actors. Development agencies or workers can best assist communities by understanding the complexities and intersectionalities that each community or person in that community faces. Many different factors in a person’s life such as gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class  and more all combine to determine how that individual experiences oppression or discrimination.

I read a quote from Kimberle Crenshaw, an African American lawyer who coined the term intersectionality, that I thought  important for development stakeholders to consider. She said, “If efforts began with addressing the needs and problems of those who are the most disadvantaged, and with restructuring and making the world more necessary, then others who are singularly disadvantaged would also benefit.” When development actors listen to the most marginalized communities they are able to build from the ground up and make sure that development is inclusive for the entire population. Implementing projects with intersectionality in mind also allows for sustainability and long-term effectiveness. When look at the intersectional discrimination a population faces the project is more likely to identify the root cause of the problem and solve it more efficiently. This does not waste as much donor funding by only looking into one issue and jus putting a Band-Aid on the larger problem at hand.

In my capstone project intersectionality is important to think about. The students who I am researching are some of the most marginalized in the Haitian community. Girls have a harder time accessing school in the country, but it becomes nearly impossible when they have a low socio-economic status and also have a disability. These intersectionalities need to inform the government and schools when designing programing for students such as the one described above in Haiti and all over the world.