How do you define a feminist

Intersectional feminism

From the unequal impact of the COVID-19 crisis in societies around the world to international protests against racism and discrimination, current events show us that we are far from equality. Understanding and combating this multitude of injustices may feel overwhelming. However, intersectional feminism offers an approach through which we can better understand one another and seek a more equitable future for all.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American law professor who coined the term in 1989, recently explained intersectional feminism in an interview with Timeals as "a prism for understanding the way in which different forms of inequality often interact and exacerbate one another."

An intersectional approach shows how people's social identities overlap. In the process, discriminatory experiences accumulate and intensify.

“We tend to talk about racial inequality as if it were separate from inequality based on gender, social class, sexuality, or immigration history. What is missing is the understanding that some people are exposed to all of these inequalities. These people's experience is not simply the sum of its parts, ”says Crenshaw.

An intersectional feminism focuses on the voices of those experiencing overlapping, simultaneous forms of oppression in order to grasp the depths of inequalities and the relationships between them in each context.

The famous Brazilian women's rights activist Valdecir Nascimento says: "The dialogue on strengthening the rights of black women should put them at the center." Nascimento has been fighting for equality for 40 years. “Black women from Brazil never stopped fighting,” she says, pointing out that black women were part of the feminist movement, the black movement and other progressive movements. “We don't want other people to speak for black feminists, either white Feminists still black men. It is imperative that young black women take on this fight, ”she says. "We are the solution in Brazil, not the problem."

An intersectional approach also means recognizing the historical contexts in which problems are embedded. Long histories of violence and systematic discrimination have created deep injustices that put some people at a disadvantage in the first place. These inequalities overlap, such as poverty, caste systems, racism and sexism, and they deny people their rights and equal opportunities. The effects stretch across generations.

Sonia Maribel Sontay Herrera is an indigenous woman and human rights activist from Guatemala, where systematic discrimination against indigenous women has persisted for decades. Herrera has felt the effects of these historical injustices since she was a little girl.

When she was ten, she moved to a city to go to school - an opportunity, she says, that most indigenous girls don't get. However, Herrera was forced to give up her native language K’iche ‘and learn Spanish. Since that was the language of the colonial power, she felt it was an unjust burden placed on her as an indigenous woman. After graduating from school, Herrera immediately came across racism and sexist stereotypes while looking for a job. As she was an indigenous woman, some said that she only had work to do in the house.

“You see us as domestic servants. When they meet an indigenous woman, they suspect that is all we can do, ”she explains, outlining how she experiences the accumulation of various forms of discrimination based on her identity.

“Those most affected by gender-based violence and inequality are also the most impoverished and marginalized people: Black women and women of color, indigenous women, rural women, young women, girls with disabilities, gender non-conformists and transgender youth, ”explains Majandra Rodriguez Acha, a youth leader and climate justice campaigner from Lima, Peru. It is no coincidence, she stresses, that marginalized communities are hardest hit by natural disasters and the devastating effects of climate change.

Problems ranging from discrimination on the basis of gender identity to unequal burdens due to climate change appear at first glance to be independent of one another. But an intersectional feminism shows the connection between all struggles for justice and liberation. It shows us that the fight for equality does not only address gender injustices, but that all forms of oppression must be abolished. It serves as a framework for integrative, solid movements that want to resolve overlapping forms of discrimination at the same time.

An intersectional feminism is important today because:

The effects of crises are not uniform.

Countries and communities around the world are facing diverse and intensifying challenges. Although the composition of these problems differs from place to place, they all have in common that they reinforce existing needs for shelter, food, education, care, employment and protection.

Yet those who respond to these crises often fail to protect the most vulnerable. "If you are invisible in everyday life, then in a crisis situation your needs will not be thought of, let alone addressed," says Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian, feminist human rights activist from Thailand. She is committed to not forgetting the special needs of LGBTIQ + people in times of crisis. Many of them are indigenous.

The corona pandemic has exacerbated many long-standing injustices and decades of discriminatory practices. These lead to uneven development processes.

Rather than splintering our struggles, taking into account the experiences and challenges faced by different groups has a unifying effect. We are better able to understand the problems at hand and thereby find solutions that will help everyone.

Injustices must not go unnamed or unchallenged.

When we look through an intersectional feminist lens, we see different communities tackling different, interrelated problems at the same time. Standing in solidarity with one another, questioning power structures and speaking out against the causes of inequalities are crucial measures to create a future that will not let anyone down.

"If you see inequality as a problem of 'them' or the 'unfortunate other', that is a problem," says Crenshaw. "We need to be open to looking at all the ways our systems reproduce these inequalities, and that includes both privilege and suffering."

A new 'normal' must be fair to everyone.

Since crises reveal the structural inequalities that shape our lives, they are also moments of great new beginnings: catalysts for the reconstruction of societies that offer everyone justice and security. They provide the opportunity to redefine 'normal' instead of going back to the agenda.

An intersectional feminist approach to today's crises helps us seize the opportunity to rebuild better, stronger, resilient and equal societies.

"COVID-19 has given us [...] a rare opportunity," said Silliniu Lina Chang, president of the Samoa Victim Support Group, which is committed to providing improved services to victims of domestic violence during the pandemic. “[It's] time for all of us to zero again. Think outside of your comfort zone and think outside the box to the neighbors who are in need. "

This is a translation of a text by UN Women. The anti-racist spelling of Alice Hasters was used for this.
See: Alice Hasters. What white People don't want to hear about racism but should know. 2019.