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Intersectionality

What is intersectionality?

  • Intersectionality refers to how the various identities we belong to overlap in ways that shape our experiences, situations, and life chances.
  • Our identities include categories such as race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, immigration status, and more.
  • It is important to be aware of how intersectionality shapes people’s experiences when working in areas including research, activism, policy writing, and service provision.

Where did the term “intersectionality” come from?

  • The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to convey how dominant feminist and anti-racist movements often exclude Black women’s interests.
  • Before this term was coined, many feminists of colour were thinking intersectionally (for example, Davis, 1981; Collins 1986).

How does intersectionality relate to sexual violence?

Here are two examples of how intersectionality can be important in thinking about sexual violence that come from a 1991 article by Kimberlé Crenshaw:

  • Example 1: Research has shown that, on average, courts give less severe sentences to men found guilty of sexually assaulting Black women than to men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women. Research has also shown that, on average, Black men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women receive harsher sentences than white men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women. Neither racism alone nor sexism alone can explain these outcomes. Intersectionality involves thinking about the relationships between both.
  • Example 2: In English-speaking Canada and the United States, many non-anglophones are recently settled immigrants, refugees, or undocumented people. Women in these circumstances can be dependent on male partners for information about the world outside the home or to meet basic needs. This creates a difficult situation when the men in question are abusive. At the same time, as of the writing of Crenshaw’s article in 1991, some shelters would not accept women without functional English skills. This situation left non-anglophone women more vulnerable than anglophone women. It is not possible to understand a situation such as this by thinking only about gender, immigration status, or language. Intersectionality involves thinking about the relationships between all three.

Are university SV/SA policies intersectional?

Some university SV/SA policies explicitly recognize that intersectionality is relevant to sexual violence or sexual violence response. It may not be possible to know from a statement recognizing intersectionality whether or how intersectionality will inform how a policy is applied.