Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality is the idea that social identities such as race, class, gender, religion are fundamentally interconnecting and compound with one another to create systems of advantage, disadvantage, and discrimination. Personally, the concept of intersectionality is essential to a complete understanding of society as a whole, in that, systematic injustice in addition to social inequality can be best understood by examining the intersections of identity. For example, issues of gender can be compounded with issues of race in class. In American society, racial discrimination of Black Americans can be compounded with the gender based discrimination faced by women within American society to result in Black American women having a less privileged status than that of a white man.

In terms of the importance of intersectionality in the field of international development, intersectional approaches are critical to understand how compounding identities can fundamentally disadvantage some populations within societies, and advantage others. This approach is crucial in understanding why certain populations get left behind in the development plans of nations. When the intersections of, for example, poverty and indigenous heritage are not considered within the development plan of states, discrimination of indigenous people can be two fold in that indigenous populations might be stigmatized by majority ethnic populations, and might have fewer employment opportunities as a result.

This places enormous pressure on the importance of intersectional approaches for international organizations like the United Nations. While intersectionalility as a mainstream social theory is relatively young, there has been a concerted effort to incorporate the concept into the governance structure of the UN. For example, within the HLPF, there are 9 major groups that permitted to participate in proceedings. The nine major groups represent different communities and populations and were formed with the goal of incorporating a wide variety of perspectives into agenda setting and decision-making. The nine major groups are 1) Women, 2) Children and Youth, 3) Indigenous Peoples, 4) Non-Governmental Organizations, 5) Local Authorities, 6) Workers and Trade Unions, 7) Business and Industry, 8) Scientific and Technological Community, and 9) Worker and Trade Unions. While there are certainly limitations to the number of perspectives that are truly able to be incorporated into the UN in the limitation of the major groups to nine, the inclusion of the groups marks a step in the right direction for intersectionality in governance institutions.

Inclusive Education, Enshrined in the CRPD

Education as a fundamental human right is a view that has gained popularity across the world in the late 20th and 21st centuries. Education for Persons with Disabilities remains a problem that is pervasive in most societies. According to UNESCO, “Persons with disabilities are more likely to be out of school or to leave school before completing primary or secondary education.” This is a global phenomenon that has inextricable impacts on the capacity of persons with disabilities to support themselves economically, navigate access channels to health services, and generally contribute to the social fabrics of their societies.

In response to this challenge of inclusive education, the CRPD includes the provisions that states are to guarantee equal access to education (primary, secondary, and vocational) to persons with disabilities in Article 24 of the convention. In the legally binding nature of the CRPD, ratifying states are obligated not only to guarantee this equality in law, but implement concrete assistance programs that establish support systems for PWDs who require addition support in their learning. This includes specially trained teachers who are capable of teaching PWDs that may have specific needs, the use of educational materials that are accessible to blind and deaf PWDs, and to ensure that quality schools are physically accessible to PWDs.

The providing of inclusive education to PWDs is not only essential to the capacity development and economic independence of PWDS, but is also crucial to reducing the stigmatization that PWDs face in many societies. As more and more PWDs are able to access education, the stigma that paints persons with disabilities as individuals that do not contribute to the larger society as a whole can erode.

The establishment of ICTs for PWDs is one major avenue being utilized to cater education opportunities to the needs of PWDs. Fully online degree programs for higher education, remote participation in classroom activities, and the distribution of reading materials over the internet have led to fundamentally more access to education for PWDs in developed and middle income countries. In lower income countries, the need to establish available cyberinfrastucture is crucial to the ability to implement inclusive ICTs for education.

Were the MDGs Successful? The Efficacy of Global and Regional Frameworks

Since the SDGs were adopted as a global framework in 2015, many have attempted to evaluate the success of the Millennium Development Goals in achieving goals of:

  1. to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. to achieve universal primary education;
  3. to promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. to reduce child mortality;
  5. to improve maternal health;
  6. to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. to ensure environmental sustainability; and
  8. to develop a global partnership for development.


While based on empirical data, each of these eight goals was advanced during the time period of 2000 to 2015, the question as to whether or not the existence of the Millennium Development Goals directly accelerated progress in each area remains to be seen. According to Brookings, the clearest victories of the MDGs were in lives saved. During the MDG era, accelerated progress in addressing child mortality, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis saved an estimated 21 million extra lives.[1] In addition to saving lives, the MDG period saw significantly increased participation in education, access to potable water, and nutrition in some regions (Sub-Saharan Africa in particular), with stagnated progress in others.

But did the Millenium Development Goals play a significant role in sparking accelerations in achievement in the 8 key issue areas, or would increasing rates of international cooperation achieved these same gains without the framework? This is the central question for the efficacy of UN frameworks as a whole. Many critics of the Millenium Development Goals often cite the fact that many of the nations that achieved progress in the areas, were already on track for progress well before the adoption of the framework. While this is a valid criticism in the case of China and India, nations in Africa experienced rapid progress towards the goals that they were not on track to achieve before the adoption. Therefore, the success of the Millenium Development Goals as a global framework is contestable. But, one thing that’s clear is that in order to ensure the success of the SDGs, research has to be done in order to identify which types of government, public sector, and private sector actions contributed to advancement towards the goals.

Works Cited

[1]  Rasmussen, John. “How Successful Were The Millennium Development Goals?.” Brookings. N. p., 2017. Web. 8 Dec. 2017.

Multistakeholder Global Governance

Multistakeholder Global Governance is the idea that by bringing together diverse stakeholders to participate in decision-making, policy formulation, and implementation, more comprehensive and compatible solutions to global challenges will result. In regards to internet governance, multistakeholder governance is a strategy that is extremely compatible due to the internet’s ability to unite diverse individuals from anywhere on Earth. In this incredible capacity of the internet to expand participation, multistakeholder governance has become the norm for internet governance. The strengths of this approach are numerous, but Internet Society identifies a few key situations in which a multistakeholder approach is needed:

  1. When the decisions being made impact a wide range of people and interests
  2. When there are overlapping rights and responsibilities across sectors and national borders
  3. When the issue being addressed requires different forms of expertise in addition to diverse perspectives
  4. When the legitimacy of decisions being made directly affect the success of implementation

The potential for the internet to influence the policymaking process is enormous. By expanding participation to more voices, the likelihood of developing policy solutions that consider the experiences, realities, and needs of different populations can be increased. In addition to influencing the policy making process, the internet has single handedly revolutionized the capacity for collaboration transnationally. As we have discussed in class, the internet has expanded the formation of transnational virtual collaboratories (groups of individuals working together towards shared goals). In doing so, the scope at which organizations can now work has been greatly expanded. Organizations, for example, can now have research fellows conducting their research on one side of the globe, while organizers and advocates are on the ground on the other side. The two groups can collaborate digitally, working simultaneously to achieve organizational goals. This opens up tremendous opportunities for cooperation in advancing goals in which transnational efforts are required, like the SDGs.

Digital Divides: Addressing the Access Problem for PWDs

As technology has advanced over the years, it has become more affordable and accessible, yet a digital divide between the privileged and unprivileged. This digital divide has tangible consequences for those who do not have access. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Report entitled “Digital differences,” one in five American adults does not use the internet.[1] Among this US population of those who do not use the internet are senior citizens, Non-English language speakers, adults with less than a high school education, those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year, and persons with disabilities.[2] Around 27% of adults in the United States live with a disability. Of that population, only 54% of adult persons with disabilities use the internet consistently, as opposed to 84% of Americans in general[3] The reasons for this discrepancy and multifarious. Disability, compounded with other factors that determine internet use such as old age, lack of education, and lower income results in a fundamentally underserved population in regards to access to ICTs. If people with disabilities are not included in the rapidly growing digital world economy, they could be left behind.


How can we expand access to ICTs for persons with disabilities? While this question is one that we are still struggling with today, there are many innovators and organizations working to make the internet and other technologies more accessible to persons with disabilities. One key opportunity for advancement is in the design of the technology itself. For some people with disabilities, barriers can appear in the design of software used for employment and education. To address this issue, some companies and innovators have developed assistive technologies designed to aid disabled persons’ successful interactions with technologies. In addition to developing assistive technologies, advocates for inclusion have promoted the idea of “universal design” as a standard for all technology design. This concept is the idea of shifting the audience in mind when designing technologies from the “average user” to all people. In promoting this idea, advocates are urging technology developers to cease ignoring the needs of PWDs in favor of catering technology to the average consumer. For advocates of the concept, its is possible to address both of these populations simultaneously so that there are little to no barriers to access in technologies. While assistive technologies will not solve the “digital divide” as a whole for persons with disabilities, a change in mindset within the technology sector to keep universal accessibility central to the design of ICTs is change that is necessary for the expansion of inclusivity.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Works Cited:

Zickuhr, Kathryn, and Aaron Smith. “Digital Differences.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N. p., 2012. Web. 6 Dec. 2017.

The Importance of Universally Accessible ICTs in Development

In an increasingly globalized world, Information and communications technology (ICTs) occupy an ever growing role in terms of development. While the importance of ICTs in everyday life has grown dramatically as the technology has modernizes and become more powerful, disparities exist in regards to who has access to these ICTs. In 1985, the Independent Commission for Worldwide Telecommunications Development, headed by Donald Maitland, first identified the existence of a disparity in terms of access to ICTs. The Maitland Commission Report identified an enormous imbalance in telephone access globally, largely between developed and developing countries. The commission asserted the existence of telecommunication infrastructure directly correlates with economic growth, underscoring the need to incorporate ICTs promotion and infrastructure into the larger paradigm surrounding development. While the Maitland Report was certainly influential as the first publication to highlight this disparity, The Falling Through the Net 1995 Report published by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Department of Commerce identified the existence of inequality of access to ICTs within an individual countries population. The survey identified large barriers to access in rural areas, and in central cities. The largest barrier to access identified in the report was poverty, with the nations poorest households in both rural and urban areas experiencing a lack of access to telephones, computers, and modems. In addition to poverty, other factors in determining access to ICTs are race and age. In the report, racial minorities, the youngest Americans, and older people all experienced barriers to access to ICTs.

Both the Maitland Report, as well as the Falling Through the Net reports highlight the need for focused efforts to expand access to ICTs on an international development scale, as well as domestically. In the years since the reports were published, the technologies themselves have changed, but the need for the expansion of access has only increased. While ICTs have certainly become more accessible since 1985, the consequences for access have become more severe for those who do not have access. In a digital age, crucial education services, employment opportunities, healthcare information, political participation processes, and countless other avenues for participation in economies rely on access to ICTs. Reducing inequality in development is inextricably linked to the establishment of accessible ICTs and inclusive access of ICTs should be a priority in both domestic and international development policy.

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda: Transforming Cities

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) is a comprehensive agenda for sustainable urban development adopted in Quito, Ecuador during the Habitat III conference. The NUA sets forth a 20-year plan, or “roadmap” for achieving the goal of “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” that is enshrined in Goal 11 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to most recent statistics, more than half of the worlds population now lives in urban settings, a trend that is predicted to continue. This statistic demonstrates the incredibly important role urban areas play in overall goals of development and sustainability. In order to achieve a sustainably developed world, a transformation of urban areas to be both inclusive and sustainably managed is crucial.


As a large portion of the developing world is undergoing rapid urbanization, the importance of the New Urban Agenda in promoting urban spaces that are inclusively designed for persons with disabilities is landmark. Within the document itself, the New Urban Agenda includes 15 explicit references to the importance of considering the needs and contributions of persons with disabilities in urban settings. The NUA does not only mention the importance of persons with disabilities as a consideration for urban development, but the document also clearly identifies actions that will help ensure that PWDs are not left behind in urban development. One of the opportunities for inclusivity necessary for implementing the NUA is in building the capacity of civil society groups, organizations of persons with disabilities in particular, so that their voice can be heard in urban development decision making process. Another strategy laid out by the New Urban Agenda for increasing inclusivity is in the designing of universally accessible buildings. By incorporating accessibility, inclusivity, and efficiency into city building codes and standards, urban spaces can greatly improve in their ability to serve all members of the city in the expansion of access to public spaces, government buildings, libraries, schools, etc. Finally, an important opportunity for expanding inclusivity in urban settings is through the use of information and communication technology (ICTs). Incorporating inclusive, accessible ICTs into city planning, political participation, community engagement can break preexisting barriers to participation for not only persons with disabilities, but along socioeconomic distinctions as well.


While only time will tell whether or not the worlds cities can become truly sustainable and inclusive by 2036, the New Urban Agenda is a landmark document that greatly informs the efforts of cities striving to become sustainable and inclusive for all.

The Importance of the SDG framework in informing the work of civil society

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a crucial framework adopted to address some of the worlds most pressing development dilemmas. The SDGs, which expanded upon the priorities highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals, identify 17 specific goals that would result in a more sustainable world if achieved by 2030. For example, the ambitious set of goals include No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Climate Action, to name a few, as key areas for achieving a more sustainable and equitable global society. While the SDG framework is certainly crucial in its establishment of both goals and indicators, the SDG framework has also been extremely influential in shaping the way governments, civil society, and individuals understand the field of development generally.

In my own internship experience, I have seen firsthand the capacity that the Sustainable Development Goal Framework has in not only serving as an action plan for development, but also in focusing the efforts of actors across sectors and focus areas. At EcoAgriculture Partners. where I currently serve as communications intern, we work to reduce hunger, increase agricultural production, improve rural people’s lives and conserve biodiversity using an innovative whole landscape approach. At EcoAgriculture Partners, I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion hosted by the organization in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Entitled Advancing Integrated Landscape Strategies for the SDGs, the roundtable discussion brought together professionals working across sectors of conservation, sustainable agriculture, and development to discuss the opportunities for furthering integrated landscape approaches through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal framework. The roundtable discussion highlighted the ways in which the SDG framework can serve a variety of functions. For some attending the discussion, the SDG framework proved useful in providing a monitoring framework for their own initiatives. Others saw the SDGs as valuable for contextualizing their initiatives within the realm of policy advocacy. In addition to this, panelists at the discussion underscored the way in which the SDG framework can be useful in expanding cooperation to un-silo efforts within individual organizations while also serving as a common language for encouraging private sector partnerships.

Development Theory and the Influence of Amartya Sen

The definition of development is one that has been contested by many economists, cultural theorists, politicians, and international organizations. Questions of “What is Development? How do we measure it? And how can we promote it internationally?” have long dominated discourse surrounding international development and have been answered in many different ways. Most notably, three major theories of internationally development have emerged over the course of history, with each building off each other. Modernization Theory, the idea that societies transition from pre-modern ones into modernized ones through similar processes, was a popular development ideology in the 1950s but eventually declined with the rise of Dependency Theory. Dependency Theory was theorized in direct response to the claims of Modernization Theory and suggested that development is driven by the flow of resources from undeveloped periphery states to industrialized core states, at the expense of the periphery. While neither Modernization Theory or Dependency have many modern day adherents, the ways in which the they came to prominence shows the way in which theories of development interact with one another and change over time.

One of the more significant contributions to international development discourse in recent history is that of economist Amartya Sen. For Sen, traditional measures of development that solely focus on economic production and growth cannot fully measure the living conditions and general well being of a nation’s people. In Development as Freedom, Sen outlines his “capabilities” approach to development in which human well being is best measured by assessing standard of living and access to individual freedoms like healthcare and education. Stemming from his conception of development, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) adopted the Human Development Index (HDI). The index incorporates Sen’s ideas of measuring well being by compiling indicators like life expectancy, expected years of schooling, and Gross National Income (GNI) into a single measurement.

In my opinion, Sen’s contributions to the way in which development is understood globally are incredibly valuable, especially in encouraging a more nuanced understanding of development that promotes sustainability and inclusion. In a world of incredible economic affluence, as well as immense poverty and inequality, it is easy to get trapped in the “GDP ideology” conception of development. But, to fully understand where societies need to improve, an understanding of development in terms of ability of all people within a nation to live a healthy, prosperous, and free life is essential. By adopting Amartya Sen’s understanding of Development as Freedom, the international community can work towards an inclusive, sustainable world that is not inherently biased towards Western conceptions of development.

Grand Challenges of Sustainable Development: Encouraging Integrated Approaches

Grand challenges represent opportunities for collective efforts to work towards common goals. Historically, these grand challenges have presented themselves across various disciplines including medicine, space flight, energy, and development. For American physicist and policy advisor Lewis Branscomb, these grand challenges are extremely complex and stubborn in definition, requiring comprehensive solutions in which the scientific community, members of government, civil society, and public population must cooperate closely to focus their efforts. For Branscomb, accurately defining the Grand Challenge is crucial to finding an effective solution. In the realm of sustainable development, defining Grand Challenges of sustainable development has been achieved in the creation of a comprehensive frameworks like the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the creation of the SDGs, which expanded upon the Millennium Development goals, the development community effectively established measurements and indicators to track progress at specific challenges that make up the larger grand challenge of global sustainable development. The creation of this framework is landmark because it provides a concrete mechanism through which the international community can focus their ambitious vision of a sustainable future into practical, achievable measurements and indicators.

Since the end of the 20th century, it has become overwhelmingly apparent that global grand challenges of sustainable development are fundamentally intertwined with one another. For example, to address the issue of global food insecurity, issues of economic opportunity, agricultural sustainability, as well as peacebuilding must also be considered in strategies of improving food security. The interconnected nature of these issues of sustainable development has resulted in a need for integrated approaches to development. If we, as a society, are to achieve these grand challenges of sustainable development, a segmented approach in which actors in development operate independently of one another is not sufficient. In order to make the ambitious goals of the sustainable development community’s “moonshot thinking” a reality, then an integrated approach in which civil society, governments, private sector, and expert researchers can effectively implement initiatives and policies that navigate the intersections within issues sustainable development is required. In doing this, actors working within sustainable development can better ensure that the design of sustainable development initiatives work to advance multiple goals of sustainable development in addition to fostering an inclusive environment that does not discriminate along the lines of gender, ethnicity, economic status, or disability.