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  • Budi Sudarto

Intersectionality: It's not a fad

There has been an increasing interest in the area of intersectionality, a term that can be described as a framework to explore and analyse a complex dynamics between multiple system of oppression and disadvantages. Originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality has been adopted by many activists and academics to stress that there is more than just one system of oppression experienced by marginalised groups. Individuals constantly navigate multiple and systemic layers of discrimination. As such, it is not enough to only address racism OR sexism OR homophobia OR transphobia OR ableism and so on. Instead, two or more of these factors must be seen as a whole that affect individuals' lived experiences and standing in society.


Intersectionality also recognises that, even though individuals may faced one form of discrimination as a group (e.g. racism), how it is being experienced differ according to one's gender, education, class, religious affiliation, migration status, language proficiency, literacy and many more. An individual's experience is not just confined to one form of marginalisation, but multiple forms depending on the dominant structure that exists within a particular group and society. For example, even though gay men and lesbian both face homophobia, culturally diverse individuals are faced with racism and, for women, they are also confronted by sexism that exist in both the LGBTI community and ethnic communities. This is just an example of the importance of recognising intersectional identities to ensure that their unique lived experiences are captured in policy and program design.


The concept of intersectionality might be difficult to grasp for some, but not for us who are intersectional. The experience of an able-body cisgender Anglo gay man will be different to that of a South Asian same-sex attracted trans-man whose English is a third language, which will be different to that of a South American trans-woman with physical disability.


Similarly, an African Muslim lesbian woman will face different forms of stigma and discrimination in comparison to an Anglo lesbian woman. Intersectional framework must recognises privileges within marginalised identities. Failure to do so will result in erasure of identities, as policies and programs only cater for the needs of the dominant group without addressing the specific challenges faced by marginalised groups within.


Intersectional thinking requires companies, organisations, service providers and policy makers to embrace and adopt a diversity framework that goes beyond classifying individuals based on a particular identity. It requires workplaces to be critical of identities that are currently not included in their strategies, and work towards a greater inclusion of intersectional identities as part of policy, program planning and service delivery. This means putting a stop of 'targetting' a specific community because it fits a particular diversity quota (cultural diversity OR ability OR gender OR religious affiliation OR sexuality OR trans identity and so on), but to embrace diversity within. It also requires organisations to advance their current understanding of a specific group through training and professional development to explore multiple forms of discrimination as experienced by intersectional identities within a group.


Example: An LGBTI working group is not intersectional without the participation and input of intersectional identities within the LGBTI community (culture, religion, gender, intersex variations, ability, class and many more).


Intersectionality therefore is not a fad. For us who live and breathe intersectionality, it is a daily reality where we constantly navigate our identity depending on context. It has existed, and continue to exist, as we sit outside of the dominant power structure. The task is for us to work with intersectionality to ensure that we understand that there is no "one size fits all" approach when working with marginalised identities. Instead, we are to acknowledge how different "ism" affect individuals, their specific needs, and embrace diversity that exists within diversity.


This blog is a personal reflection and is not to be used as an academic source.