*Trigger Warning: Rape, physical violence, stalking, suicide
For me, this perfectly sums up what intersectionality is all about. We cannot win the fight of gender equality if we ignore the experiences of marginalised women.
The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined in 1989 by Black American feminist, activist, academic, and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw. It was used to describe the reality of experiencing interconnected forms of oppression, at first along the lines of race and gender, although the penultimate goal was to attain equality for all.
Crenshaw created the term because Black women were unable to access legal protection for the discrimination they faced in the workplace. They were required to choose a discrimination, either racism or sexism, as in a court of law it could not be both. The reason for this was because sexism was seen as an issue for White women exclusively. Similarly, racism was seen as an issue for Black men exclusively. This perception of oppression meant that Black women were left out of the fight for gender and racial equality. Their voices, stories and experiences were completely left out of the picture.
“Intersectionality is not MERELY about identity. It is about how structures make certain identities the consequences of the vehicle of vulnerability”— Letlhogonolo (@mx_mokgoroane) March 5, 2018
-Kimberlé Crenshaw pic.twitter.com/a8tGn8zUzy
“All inequality is not created equal,” Crenshaw once said. Consequently, intersectionality shows how entities can overlap, creating exacerbated forms of oppression.
Fast forward about 30 years, and the patriarchy and white supremacy are still alive and kicking. The fight for intersectionality also continues. The experiences of Black women are still unheard in many different spaces. As well as this, the experiences of other marginalised groups of people are also unheard. In 2021, this is simply inexcusable.
Our feminism must be intersectional because we live intersectional lives. Not one of our experiences are the same and we need to recognise the structures and systems that oppress different groups in different ways.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism, and ableism intertwine with each other, fundamentally shaping our experiences.
Therefore, we must amplify the voices and experiences of all women. This includes women of colour, LGBTQIA+ women, trans, and non-binary people and disabled women.The harrowing statistics speak for themselves and highlight why intersectionality is a necessity:
- Black women are 5x more likely to die in pregnancy in comparison to white women.
- Research conducted by The Human Rights Campaign found that 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or by an intimate partner, in comparison to 35% of white women.
- Stonewall cites that 48% of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once and 84% have thought about it.
- 35% of disabled women are paid below the National Living Wage in the UK.
By ignoring their voices we are ignoring the deep-rooted inequalities that are entrenched in the fabric of society. All oppression should be eradicated in our society, however, we can only do this by fully understanding the way that intersectionality feeds into this oppression.
Therefore, I challenge us all to look inwardly at our efforts to fight against the patriarchy and white supremacy: is our feminism truly intersectional? Do we hold space for experiences of marginalised groups? Do we amplify their voices and advocate for them?
If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest just listen. Activist and scholar Dr Suad Abdul Khabeer once said on Twitter: “You don’t have to be the voice for the voiceless, just pass the mic.”
However, here some other ways in which you can take an intersectional approach to feminism.
- Decentring yourself from the conversation.
- Using your platforms and privilege to advocate and support.
- Listening and learning from other experiences.
- Ensuring that your language is inclusive.
- Share resources.
- Be open to continuous learning
By dismantling the patriarchy and white supremacy, we create a society that everyone benefits from. Feminism is often seen as a movement that advocates for just women, but this perception is misguided. True intersectional feminism is the foundation of social justice and social equity.
If we continue to take a one-dimensional approach to tackle the patriarchy and white supremacy, we will never win. We need a collective movement to fight for the same outcome — equality for all. We must dismantle our individualism and recognise that this is a movement, not a moment for ourselves. There have been many that have gone before for us that only dreamed of the society that we are living in today, but we must never become complacent. The bar must always be lifted and the gate must always be widened. We must always ask ourselves: “what next?”
Chisomo Phiri is a Policy and Communications Partner at gender equality organisation Chwarae teg. As previous Women’s Officer at the National Union of Student Wales, Chisomo is passionate about equality, social justice and dismantling racism. Chisomo is experienced in campaign planning and implementation and political influencing.
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