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Intersectionality in Inequality

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

By Susan Thomas

Edited by Deshna Jain

According to Oxford Dictionary, Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise.

In a way, this framework of structuring and understanding of the overlapping systems of privilege and oppression of an individual’s/group’s race, religion, nationality, gender identity, class, sexual orientation and so on is conceptualized by intersectionality. Any identity marker cannot be understood or experienced in isolation. One is always interlinked or occurring simultaneously because of the other, resulting in quite a complex and unique situation.

In simple words, you don't exist in a single dimension when it comes to your identity. You identify as your race, religion, your gender, your qualifications, your financial background and your sexuality. All these facets combine to determine your social standing. The problem with this multi-layered system identification is - as is of course in any system of identification which in turn, leads to what percent privilege and facilities you will receive in almost every everyday situation - is that the more categories you rank unfavorably in, the more you lose your privileges.

For example, it is quite important to note that even in the backward classes of India, such as SCs/STs/OBCs, women face more of a backlash from day to day life whether health/education or even sanitation is concerned than their male counterparts. Most of them do not have access to sanitary products, regular health check-ups done by professionals, primary education etc. If these women are compared to working class women in a Metropolitan like Delhi, we can see a clear distinction between access to resources and its restrictions. Now consider these women to be transwomen. The distinction grows further. The unavailability of resources and facilities further increases. Having overlapped, these only make daily living experiences even of oppressed people more adverse.

Perhaps to shed light on such scenarios and their disturbing commonality, intersectional feminism has especially gathered great ground among the youth. The movement focuses on separate yet intermingling identities of women and how oppression is two fold, three fold and even more multiplied with every new "label".

The term ‘Intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (law professor and social theorist) in 1989 in an attempt to analyse and explain the oppression of African American women, focusing mainly on how the power dynamics comes into play. Although, this concept is highly critiqued for its ambiguous method of conflict resolution due to the lack of setting clear goals, leading to massive contradictions. Although there has been several debates over the concept but one cannot disagree about the fact that every person experiences world in her/his way and their identity do influence these experiences. And hence this can lead to varied levels of discrimination in multiple spheres of one’s life.

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