Intersectionality and Disability-Inclusive Development

Intersectionality is a term coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. This term describes how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap (Coaston). In other words, identities are complex and multiple. The term “intersecting identities’ was used by organizers in the 2017 Women’s March to describe how people are “impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues” (Coaston). Intersectionality is essential to inclusive sustainable development because it can provide an understanding of the exclusion that we currently see in development initiatives. For example, development initiatives that address violence against women of color can be co-opted by identity politics, which often conflate and ignore intra group differences (Crenshaw 1). Violence against women is shaped by other dimensions of identity aside from gender, such as race and class (Crenshaw 1). This is just one example of many that elucidate how oftentimes, identity politics play a larger role in policy-making and development programs than intersectionality. We must change the perception and the narrative from one of identity politics to one of intersectionality.

In an article titled “Health Inequities, Social Determinants, and Intersectionality,” Lopez and Gadsden argue that intersectionality can serve as a lens/framework for studying the social determinants of health, and thus, can help in achieving health equity. They raise a complex, yet important question: 

“How do we engage in inquiry and praxis (action and reflection) that departs from the understanding that intersecting systems of oppression, including race/structural racism, class/capitalism, ethnicity/ethnocentrism, color/colorism, sex and gender/patriarchy, and sexual orientation/heterosexism, nationality and citizenship/nativism, disability/ableism and other systemic oppressions intersect and interact to produce major differences in embodied, lived race-gender that shape the social determinants of health” (2)?

Intersectionality “lies in two domains” that are relevant to understanding the social determinants of health: 1) this framework challenges the status quo and opposes “blaming the victim,” and 2), this framework promotes equity and social justice for those excluded communities that have and will continue to experience structural inequities (2). When thinking about intersectionality in my capstone project, I anticipate the framework to be most useful in the recommendations section of the paper. When proposing ideas for how India can move forward with implementing inclusive health development initiatives, specifically SDG 3 through NIF indicators 3.8.1 and 3.8.8, that consider persons with disabilities, perhaps my recommendations can center around moving forward using the intersectionality framework rather than the personal tragedy and medical models of disability that place blame on persons with disabilities and ignore their diverse needs (Pineda 114-115). Addressing DRR/DRM and telehealth (ICTs), which I had already planned to address in the recommendations section of the paper, would be bolstered by grounding the intersectionality framework. How can achieving health equity, or inclusive health, in India, particularly for persons with disabilities, be strengthened by an intersectional analysis? How can improved DRR, DRM, and telehealth take care to implement the intersectionality framework, so that these recommended initiatives address persons with disabilities and their multiple identities (i.e., lower-caste persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ persons with disabilities, Muslim persons with disabilities, etc.)?