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Why intersectionality matters

Consider a 60-year old Somalian Muslim woman refugee in Japan.  

She would face discrimination on the basis of her identity as a woman, her identity as a Somalian, her identity as a non-citizen, her identity as an elderly person, her identity as a black person, her dark colour, her identity as a Muslim and her identity as a refugee. All these forms of discrimination intersects into a complex/ compound discrimination (thus the word we should all know: intersectionality).

Intersectionality tells us to look into those multiple levels of discrimination. Now consider if this woman was also a sex worker/ prostitute. That's an additional intersecting identity which raises new considerations of her past vulnerabilities and which will expose her to new vulnerabilities in the justice system. 

In Afghanistan, the lawyers shared a case where a judge had said: "I don't believe this man raped this woman because why would this man ever want to have sex with a woman from this [ethnic group]" That is intersectional discrimination right there. In her case, her justice was decided based on the existing gender and ethnic discrimination against her. 

On another ocassion, I was discussing with a soldier in Afghanistan about a report that during the Kandahar massacre in 2012 (where 16 Afghan civilians were murdered by a U.S. soldier), the U.S. soldier had committed rape. The soldier said: "I don't think a U.S. soldier would have raped a village woman. To be honest, they don't exactly smell great." Do you see the intersectional discrimination right there, on the basis of race, gender, power and politics? Can you see how it would have excluded a meaningful inquiry as to whether rape was actually committed?

Kimberle Crenshaw who speaks about intersectionality in racial and gender discrimination of black women shared that historically courts have been dismissing black women complaints of rape because "it didn't fit the kind of women or the kind of black that we could fight for".

Intersectionality tells us: if you do not look for and correct those intersectional vulnerabilities, those vulnerabilities will continue and we will continue to be blind to that. 

In my work as a human rights lawyer, intersectionality tells me to look at women in the fringes. Women who, unless I make a concerted effort to look for and speak to, I would not otherwise meet because of their multiple vulnerabilities. It tells me to account for, and address those intersecting vulnerabilities in my work. 

Kimberle Crenshaw explains failure of not seeing intersectional vulnerabilities in race and gender politics:

"A police officer (in United States) was charged with abusing 13 black women over a period of less than a year. It causes us to ask: how could someone get away with raping 13 black women while on duty? Intersectionality is the answer to that. They were black. They were poor. Some of them were involved in the criminal justice system. Some of them were substance abusers. Some of them were sex workers. Each one of those factors independently made those women less likely to be believed. You put them altogether and that's when you have open season on these particular women. And this is precisely what happened. This tells us about intersectional vulnerability. It also tells us about political exclusion because unlike many other cases of sexual abuse which have occurred in college campuses and others [involving white women, or women who are less poor, women who are not prostitutes], virtually no one showed up for these 13 women in Oklahoma city.

So when the time came to look for your allies, for people to show up and for people to say "your life matters", your intersectional vulnerability means no one is showing up for you. That is the kind of intersectional failure that #Say Her Name is trying to address."

Give your examples of intersectional vulnerabilities and how are overcoming your own blindness?



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