Intersectionality in Public Policy
What is intersectionality?
The term intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in her seminal critique of US anti-discrimination law and its failure to acknowledge Black women’s unique experiences of racism and sexism as simultaneous and inseparable. She argued if there is no unified group of women that experience gender discrimination, in the same way, it makes no sense to treat sexism and racism as if they could be isolated, and then understood and redressed separately. Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. This concept puts emphasis on the fact that different dimensions of social life are intersecting, mutually modifying and inseparable and they fuse to create unique experiences and opportunities for all groups.
Intersectional approach in Public Policy
Intersectional approaches have become primary analytical tools for understanding the ways that multiple forms of disadvantages accumulate, creating obstacles that are not conventionally acknowledged. Intersectional policy analysis acknowledges that policy is not neutral as it is not experienced in the same way by all populations. It should be taken into account that social identities create intersecting social locations and people’s lives, their experiences and positions in relation to a policy are based on these social locations. Incorporating intersectionality in policy can help in creating a mechanism that allows policymakers to identify and address the way specific acts and policies address the inequalities experienced by various social groups.
Incorporating intersectionality in policy requires policymakers and analysts to sacrifice simplifying assumptions and embrace the complexity created by intersecting social locations. Policy analysis cannot assume that any one category is enough to explain how people’s needs are shaped and affected by the policy. Rather, intersectionality-based policy analysis is interested in revealing how intersections between these social locations organize unique experiences. Intersectionality is closely tied to notions of social justice and equity. While equity is concerned with fairness, social justice efforts aim to produce equitable policy outcomes by addressing social issues at their root and transforming social structures. The intersectional approach also provides a tool to develop strategies for effective engagement and targeted policy advocacy.
Intersectionality based policy analysis considers a multi-level analysis for understanding the effects between and across various levels in society, including macro (global and national level institutions and policies), intermediate (provincial and regional level institutions) and micro levels (community and individual level grassroots institutions and policies). A multi-dimensional lens helps policymakers to address processes of inequity and differentiation across levels of structure, identity and representation. Time and space analysis is another crucial aspect of the intersectional approach. Individual experiences and diverse understandings are constructed within the dimensions of time and space. Moreover, privileges, disadvantages and intersecting identities change over time and place. Inclusion of perspectives and worldviews of people who are typically marginalized and excluded from the production of knowledge is important to address the dynamics of inequity and power i.e. power favours certain knowledge traditions to the exclusion of others. Therefore, an intersectional policy framework must consider diverse knowledge traditions and their implications for different groups of people.
It is equally imperative for researchers and policymakers to consider their own social position, role, and power when taking an intersectional approach. This is referred to as ‘reflexivity’, and can help transform policy when the people involved bringing critical self-awareness, role-awareness, interrogation of power and privilege, to their work.
Intersectionality offers a unique mechanism to analyze policy problems that are considered ‘wicked problems’ given that these issues do not have predictable, terminable, value-laden, or clear solutions. It is a tool for policy researchers to reveal and understand complex and contextual social issues while serving as a guide for policy actors to set equitable priorities in policy work. It allows us to explore and address the policymaking process and its implementation amidst the complexities of social realities, which a ‘single-axis framework’ or ‘one fits all’ approach fails to consider.