LIVE! from the UN Internet Governance Forum and GigaNet

The 13th Internet Governance Forum, an annual event for global leaders in internet governance to discuss policies and exchange information about the internet and new technology, was held in Paris, France on November 12-14th. Some of the major themes discussed were Cybersecurity, Trust & Privacy, Development, Innovation & Economic Issues, Digital Inclusion & Accessibility, Emerging Technologies, Evolution of Internet Governance, Human Rights, Gender & Youth, Media & Content, and Technical & Operational Topics. Because of my interest in working with youth, I was most interested in the sessions around youth and the internet. Continue reading


Intersectionality in Development

Intersectionality is an analytic framework created by Black legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw that shows how interlocking systems of power can impact the most marginalized in a community. More specifically, Crenshaw explained how the combined effects of racism and sexism affected African-American women in the 1980’s. In other words, intersectionality shows how multiple identities can combine and determine how a person experiences oppression. These identities include those related to age, gender, race or ethnicity, economic status, and level of education. Moreover, intersectionality illustrates how different identities can overlap and ultimately impact inclusive sustainable development. Essentially, identities cannot be viewed in a vacuum because they all relate to and impact one another. In other words, carrying multiple intersectionalities may make more individuals vulnerable to environmental stressors than others. Recognizing intersectionality within inclusive sustainable development brings these challenges to the forefront of the conversations, while also encouraging strategy and policy makers to consider intersectional identity and the challenges that they face.

In the context of inclusive sustainable development, intersectional approaches are critical to developing programming and solutions to solve problems. Without recognizing the complexity of identity, creating viable solutions that benefit all is challenging. This can be exemplified when looking at the intersectionality of disability and gender. A woman with a disability in a country that has conservative gender role may not have the opportunity to go to school. If it does, she may face physical barriers to her education because the schools within her area are not disability inclusive. Ultimately, this individual is not only oppressed because of her gender, but is physically limited within schools because of her disability. Moreover, when looking at the UN Major Groups Framework, it is evident that there are groups formulated based off of identity. These groups represent women, children and youth, NGOs, and indigenous groups, to name a few. Yet, it is important to recognize that within these groups there are other compounding identities present. For example, among indigenous groups there are also indigenous people with disabilities, and of all ages and genders. Therefore, when considering inclusive sustainable development, it is critical to understand and provide for the complex intersectionality of identity.

Intersectionalities in Inclusive Sustainable Development

When different identities overlap at a particular time, it is called an intersectionality. People exhibit intersectionalities between many different characteristics including, but not limited to, age, gender, sexuality, minority, disability, and SES. The convergence of these characteristics means all the stressors and challenges from each identity are brought together. Continue reading

Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality explores the intersections of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and class. Issues regarding race, gender, religion, and class can be heightened when combined. It is essential to understand how marginalized communities are further set back by the combination of varying identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and class. In the United States, homelessness disproportionately affects gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender youth. These groups represent 20 to 40 percent of the 1.6 to 2.8 million homeless youths in America (Center for American Progress, 2010). When creating policy or implementing programs, the advantages and disadvantages of social placement must be considered to ensure policy and programs benefit everyone equally. In the case of homeless youth in the United States, specific programs and policies must address the fact that gender, race, and sexual orientation are major factors for homelessness among youth.

All factors that contribute to ones advantages or disadvantage must be acknowledged for peace and equality. The United Nations has made a concerted effort to include the voices and perspectives of the most marginalized groups in the world after recognizing the sustainable development was impossible without active participation of all societal members. The High Level Political Forum provides a platform for nine often marginalized groups consisting of:

  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
  9. Farmers

Member States decide upon how these groups participate in intergovernmental processes related to Sustainable Development. While the creation of these groups is a step forward, I question whether or not Member States interests may be valued over the perspectives of the Major Groups, especially in countries with political instability and corruption.

All in all, intersectionality as a social theory is a relatively new concept. The Working Groups of the United Nations show the progress and importance of giving marginalized communities a platform to express their concerns and ideas towards sustainable development.


Quintana, Nico and Josh Rosenthal, and Jeff Krehely. On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth. Center for American Progress. June 2010.



Intersectionality is the concept that diverse people and institutions are interconnected. This could be the identification of individual people such as race, religion, disabled, etc. or it could be the variety of discourses and theories such as feminism, social inclusion, etc. All these topics and theories are interconnected in the work towards sustainable development. We must understand each identity and each group in order to understand the root of societal problems and how to address them. For example, inclusive education is not just a subject that includes education systems. This topic must involve persons with disabilities, women, people of color, communities, policy makers, etc. in order to address the issues and move toward more inclusive programming. This concept is very similar to a multistakeholder approach in that various groups must come together in order to meet the goals set by the United Nations.

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.