The term ‘intersectionality’ is tossed around from politics to academia- but what does it truly mean? And can ‘intersectionality’ be a useful concept for inclusive sustainable development? Intersectionality originated from the lived experiences of African-American women facing the dual oppressions and combined effects of racism and sexism; and the term was officially coined by Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989. Since intersectionality’s inception, the working definition has grown to encompass all intersections of identity including gender, race, class, disability, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status and more. It is also important to point out that these differentiated oppressions are structural rather than individual. All of these social identities must be viewed together, as each one combines to create a person’s experience in society. For example, women who are indigenous may experience gender equality differently than non-indigenous women; the movement for indigenous rights is often prioritizes the group identity, whereas the fight for gender equality tends to focus on the individual rights of women. Intersectionality can be a way to bridge these identities together so as not to fragment varied parts of identities and to understand that inequalities intersect with other oppressions to form people’s lived experiences. Can this concept be used in not only conceptualizing inclusive development but putting it into practice?
The Gender and Development Network, a network of United Kingdom-based NGOs, is working to promote and prioritize women’s rights in international development. Their website states that, “addressing patriarchy, gender inequality and the abuse of women’s rights remains the primary focus of GADN’s political agenda… But we recognise that gender inequality cannot be understood and effectively confronted in isolation from the myriad of other discriminations and forms of oppression that women face.” Along with this, its pointed out that an individual’s personal experience of intersecting oppressions is unique and their identities can not simply be ‘added up.’ GADN seeks to influence international institutions like the United Nations to propose solutions and shape the gender equality discourse, and GADN also partners with many organizations in the Global South. Along with this, GADN advocates for better gender equality policies and practice in the international development field through providing technical expertise, accessible and well-respected resources, and building a consensus on alternative economic practices. This is a fascinating example of implementing the concept of intersectionality from a feminist lens in both the policy and discourse side of development, as well as actual development practice.