Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality discusses the fact that different social identities and demographic groups cannot only be looked at in a vacuum; they are interconnected and will always be.  People identify with more than one demographic group, so when looking at how development is affecting certain groups we have to take these nuances into consideration to get a broader understanding of the situation.  Some demographics that are under examination when looking at development include race, gender, class, ethnicity, age, and more.  When looking at the interactions of multiple demographics within an individual or group, there are different outcomes and implications then if we were to only look at one.  For example, a disabled woman will face different challenges than a disabled child.  A disabled child may be excluded from receiving an education, and a disabled woman may not be able to access adequate prenatal care.

The Grand Challenges show us that participants from all these different groups need to be involved in development to help paint a more detailed picture of what the problems are, and how they can best be solved.  Stakeholder groups in international development include: Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Workers and Trade Unions, Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community and Farmers.  These are the nine groups that the UN outlines in the Sustainable Development Goals, although there are many others.  Since the goals were redesigned, there has been a larger focus on paying mind to intersectionality among different stakeholder groups, and in making sure development practitioners have the opportunity to hear from many different viewpoints on what problems should be addressed.

The conceptual basis for my final capstone project on sustainable urban transport in São Paulo had a lot to do with the concept of intersectionality in development.  The recommendations I made came from multiple angles, and did not simply suggest the government expand transportation networks.  Since the issue affected urban residents in many different ways, I made recommendations that would also indirectly fix the problems seen in the city to fill in the gaps where simply building more public transit wouldn’t fix the issue.

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Inclusive Education

Inclusive education is another grand challenge international development practitioners have grappled with for a long time, and universal primary education is one of the top concerns or goals to achieve for the Sustainable Development Goals.  When talking about inclusive education, a main problem we see is students with disabilities being excluded from the classroom environment.  There are many different reasons behind this. Oftentimes, people say they will promote disability-inclusive education, but it is much more difficult to do in practice, and much less common.

This can be for cultural reasons.  In many countries, students with mental or physical disabilities are stigmatized for their condition.  This certainly happens in the United States, but we have stronger protections in place for ensuring that students of different backgrounds and abilities are included, relatively speaking.  The cultural stigma of someone having a disability will lead schools to say they cannot have that student in the classroom.

Another cause behind this problem is the extremely daunting financial and professional burden of ensuring that every student, regardless of level of ability, has a seat at the table of education.  It can be extremely costly to get professionals who are trained in working with students with disabilities, and to purchase appropriate equipment and tools that may be needed for a disabled student to have the same level of success as a student who does not have a disability.  It can also be costly, for example, to make an educational facility accessible to a student with a physical disability.  These may mean building wheelchair ramps or installing elevators, which many schools to not have the funds to put in.

As previously discussed, the Millennial Development Goals did not mention these issues enough, but the CRPD has been working hard to increase the rights of people with disabilities.  The cultural stigma is tough to combat if it is so deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of a country, but the CRPD and the new SDGs recognize the need to combat the issue from a cultural standpoint and a financial one.  Students with physical and mental disabilities have unique problems, and the tactics used also need to be tailored to the country of operation due to cultural reasons.  That way, the outcome can be as effective as possible.

Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, the New Urban Agenda

The United Nations had their conference on housing and sustainable urban development in Quito this October, which had the aim of discussing how to improve urban development in cities around the world.  The New Urban Agenda outlines the next steps with which to tackle the Grand Challenge of sustainable urban development.  This is an extremely important issue, especially when we consider the number of people that are moving from rural to urban areas every year.  Urban areas are exploding in size, and it is crucial that we properly manage them.  IF poorly managed, these urban centers could have detrimental effects on society and on the environment.  Managing this growth is so important, and in fact, by the year 2050, the number of people living in urban areas will double.

Urban development affects every aspect of a person’s daily life, from education to health care, economy, food security, and sanitation, just to name a few.  The ideas laid out in this Urban Agenda have a lot to do with my own capstone project, which was about sustainable urban transport in São Paulo, Brazil.  Public transportation is one of the main challenges that hose focusing on improving urban sustainability focus on.  That’s mainly because public transportation is in many ways the backbone of an urban center, and is what allows a city to develop and thrive.  Half the battle of development is providing access to the different centers of urban activity, like schools, the workplace, hospitals, and more.  Without access to these places, or with poor urban transport infrastructure where commutes to these places can take hours, one cannot live a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, and more importantly, it makes it more difficult for everyone to contribute their skills and talents to the development of the city.

There are many different ways to improve urban transport, whether that be through actual construction of more public transportation networks, or through restructuring new urban development around pre-existing transit stations to increase accessibility (especially for the urban poor, who are the most often excluded from urban activity.)

Multistakeholder Global Governance

Internet governance is a sticky issue, because it is used in every corner of the world and not directly controlled by any one specific entity.  The internet is a public good where information is freely shared.  While the internet was invented in the United States and originally began as a research project done by our military, it has spread to be used worldwide.

In 2005, the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) created the concept of internet governance.  Since almost everyone is affected by these decisions, WSIS took a multistakeholder approach to their internet governance and encouraged all to be involved.  Some stakeholders in decisions that are made about the internet include individuals, schools, businesses, and many others.

The Internet Governance Forum was created to be an outlet for voices and opinions of stakeholders to be heard, and for informed decisions to be made.  While governing a free-flow of information is a daunting task, creating this outlet for input from many different groups has helped the situation.

Another important group is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  This group’s main goal is more administrative in nature, and a common critique with the group is there isn’t a strong enough focus there on international development through the internet.  However, their main objective is the run the technical side of the web, and do things like assign domain names.

In my opinion, having multiple organized groups that administer the internet and monitor its usage allows everyone to benefit, because each of the groups keeps the others accountable for their actions and keeps everyone’s needs in mind.

Digital Divides

The digital divide problem strongly relates to last week’s topic regarding rapid communication technologies.  It is a problem we see mainly in poor rural areas and economically depressed inner cities.  The digital divide refers to the gap in access to communication technologies and the internet, and this is a problem many development practitioners and multinational organizations have had to deal with.  This is because it’s been widely accepted that, for development to occur, this gap needs to close.

Many argue that the world got along just fine before the digital age.  This may be true, but we have now reached an era where these modern technologies have become seamlessly integrated into every aspect of our lives, and that fact simply cannot be ignored.  People can now finish tasks and achieve goals so much more rapidly, and the exchange of knowledge taking place over these systems is beneficial to many.  That being said, much of the world is being left out of these processes that enhance quality of life since they don’t have access.

It is important to look at the digital divide as a whole, but also through the lens of the different demographics being excluded.  As discussed in other weeks of the class, recognizing the intersectionality of different demographics in development speeds up the process.  We see gaps in the digital divide between different minorities, and also based on gender and economic status, for example.  A lot of people overlook the fact or simply don’t know about how large the digital divide actually is, but we have entered an era where these types of technologies are almost needed to survive.

One of the biggest challenges to getting access for everyone, especially in rural areas, is devising ways to put in the needed infrastructure for such technologies to be usable in the first place.  Many of these areas don’t have electricity, fiberoptic cables, computers, or even roads for deliveries.  There are many things we take for granted and don’t even think about that make access nearly impossible in many excluded areas, so work on this needs to be done from the ground up.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

Communication technology is a crucial part, especially in this day and age, of successful development.  This has been demonstrated by documents like the Maitland Commission Report called the “Missing Link” that we read in class, as well as the WSIS+10 outcome document.  We’ve reached a point in society where communication technology is needed to function and participate in almost every aspect of life.  It has the ability to speed up and make more efficient every task we do from day to day, and contributes to quicker development.

The report called “The Missing Link” highlights the gap we see between certain demographics to rapid communication technology.  We commonly see disparities in access to this technology between the rich and the poor, urban and rural residents, and young or old people.  To give a sense of how big the gap really is, it is estimated that 75% of the world’s telephones are concentrated in only nine countries.

The poor and disadvantaged are excluding from contributing to development when they don’t have access to these technologies since they stimulate many social and economic activities in life.  The exchange of knowledge is a powerful tool.  An example we discussed in class was that a farmer without access to communication technology may fall behind on the latest farming methods or technologies.  They could also fall behind by being unaware of what the market prices for certain crops are, and that could result in earning less than they deserve.

Computer access specifically can help people by bringing to them information about job postings, or community resources they may have been previously unaware of.

The idea of knowledge sharing through this technology can specifically relate to my capstone on sustainable and reliable urban transportation.  As we know, adequate public transportation is required to live a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, and allows more people to contribute their talents to the development of society.  In developed cities, residents can use smartphone applications to get live updates on public transit arrivals and plan their commutes to work and school.  Those in underdeveloped cities or countries without access to these services may be left out of the equation, and will cause difficulties in securing a job or doing well in school, for example.

The WSIS+10 document explains that institutional changes will have to be made to fix this problem, like providing cheaper technology or installing infrastructure to allow the technology to be used.