Why Intersectionality Matters in the Global Context

Yemi Olaiya is a Spring 2016 intern with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. She is currently an undergraduate student at Allegheny College studying Political Science in addition to Modern and Classical Languages. In the blog post below, she discusses the idea behind intersectionality and its relevance to how global issues are addressed.

As our world continues to grow, morphing into a newer mold with each passing generation, the subject of intersectionality becomes increasingly more important. Various international topics such as human rights, globalization, femicide, foreign service, international social movements, the global economy and experience abroad may more or less seem unrelated. However, what each of these subjects share is their intersectionality. But what is intersectionality?  Is it a term, a narrative, or a reality? In its own way, intersectionality is all of these things and then some.

The most fundamental way of understanding intersectionality is to look at it as a meeting point of two or more types of identities that impact the way in which an individual experiences discrimination. The term was originally founded as a way of describing the multifaceted discrimination that Black women experience. Indeed, the concerns and realities that comprise intersectionality have existed long before the term itself. Nevertheless, over time it has been used to address a wide range of experiences related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, and socioeconomic status. But what does this have to do with the connection of multiple nations and the relationship between borders? Everything.

For instance, every day in virtually every country there are people that suffer from poverty, domestic violence, and violations against their human rights. This happens for a number of reasons including everything from longstanding, harmful institutions and miseducation to war and corruption. The persistence of these issues often penetrate the lives of the same groups time and time again. For example, the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria committed by the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram was seen as a terrorist attack founded on extremist religious beliefs. Then just last May in Kabul, Afghanistan,  27 year old Farkhunda was killed by a mob of men who believed that she burned the Quran, when in actuality she taught the Quran to school children and confronted a man for handing out false scriptures of the Quran. This caused the man to unfoundedly spread rumors of Farkhunda burning the Quran which lead to the mob that killed her. Another example is how Transgender Europe, a volunteer organization, found in their most recent report that 1,700 transgender men and women have been killed globally over the past seven years with most of the murders occurring in Brazil and Mexico.

All of these tragedies are extreme instances of how identity relates to global issues such as religious freedom or violence and how they affect different people in different ways. Therefore, having discussions or generating solutions concerning international problems cannot be simplistic if they are to be truly effective. It is imperative to realize that a serious problem such as poverty affects men in Greece differently than women in Malaysia or children in Burkina Faso. This is why it is important to understand that these matters and others like it cannot have a one size fits all approach. This is why intersectionality is so important in the global context.

Furthermore, international organizations such as Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) must keep intersectionality in mind in serving their diverse demographic. However, the gap between a theoretical and a cultural approach must be bridged. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through education, which at times can lead to action and meaningful change. However, discussions such as these are just the beginning. It is the responsibility of those who can change the world for the better to do so. Thankfully, this is a shared responsibility that can be achieved by all members of society.