“Intersectionality is the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

Source: Merriam-Webster

Intersectionality: Kimberlé Crenshaw by Vox

Intersectionality is a term that was coined by civil rights advocate and law professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.

While the concept had previously existed, she put a name to it so that we could develop a framework for understanding:

“The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society.

Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

Photo: Vox

Based on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work, gendered-intersectionality takes into account the multidimensional lives of citizens. It also considers how elements of one’s identity such as gender, race, culture, income, paid and unpaid work, ability, diversity, age, rural/urban, etc. impact our lived experience.  The term gendered-intersectionality is rooted explicitly in social justice. Using a gendered-intersectional approach thus highlights the complexity and particularity of inequalities in the lives of diverse women. Diverse women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. This is because of systemic barriers, power relations, and discrimination.

As a result, Women Friendly Cities Challenge and Women Transforming Cities acknowledge the importance of applying a gendered-intersectional approach to all of our work. Above all, it is a crucial starting point in all discussions. A gendered-intersectional lens and the use of disaggregated data must be applied in the development of all policies, programs, budgets, funding, governance, and staffing in order to better reflect the reality of our diverse communities and to address the roots of social injustice.

An intersectional lens can address systemic barriers and global crises.

Intersectionality is a crucial starting point in all discussions and is specifically grounded in social justice.

The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) has developed a visual aid depicting intersectionality as a wheel. In this visual, the innermost circle represents a person’s unique circumstances, the second circle represents aspects of individual identity, the third circle represents different types of discrimination and attitudes that impact identity, and the outermost circle represents larger forces and structures that work together to reinforce exclusion.

Intersectionality Displayed in a Wheel Diagram,
(adapted from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, 2009)

“The way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion. The good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it.”

— Kimberlé Crenshaw | Netroots Nation Conference 2017

The Urgency of Intersectionality,
Kimberlé Crenshaw

​Now more than ever, it’s especially important to look boldly at the reality of race and gender bias, and to understand how the two can combine to create harm. Thus, Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term “intersectionality” to describe this phenomenon. As she says to illustrate, if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both. During this moving TED talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality and speak up for victims of prejudice.

A small group of women activists marching across a bridge, one speaking into a megaphone, both wearing facemarks.

For more information as well as references on intersectionality, see:

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