What is intersectionality? And why is it important for gender equality?

May 27, 2023

Intersectionality is a term used to describe the idea that social relations involve multiple intersecting forms of discrimination. This means that a person might experience several forms of discrimination, such as sexism, racism, and ableism, all at the same time. For example, a Roma woman might experience discrimination based on both her gender and ethnicity.  

Intersectionality is important for gender equality because it helps us understand how different forms of discrimination interact and exacerbate inequality. 

If we fail to consider intersectionality, our efforts to promote gender equality might be limited in their impact and could even worsen the situation for some of the most disadvantaged women. For instance, a project aimed at empowering women might overlook the specific needs and difficulties faced by Roma women, potentially worsening their marginalisation. 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, marginalised Roma people, especially Roma women, face limited access to basic rights, health care, education, housing, employment, and a decent standard of living. For example, early marriage is a persistent issue among Roma women, with 27% of marginalised Roma women aged 20-49 years in Bosnia and Herzegovina reporting that they were married before they were 18 years old, compared to 11% of non-Roma women in the same age group. 

UNDP takes intersectionality seriously and is committed to leaving no one behind. The organisation’s Gender Equality Strategy for 2022-2025 is based on the principle of addressing the multiple and intersecting forms of deprivation, disadvantage, and discrimination that interact with gender inequality. The BiH Country Office Gender Equality Strategy and Action Plan also aim to create partnerships with grassroots women’s groups that deal with a wide range of issues affecting women from diverse backgrounds. 

The Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Office has launched the Intersectionality Corner, a multi-activity initiative aimed at increasing the CO’s awareness and impact on how gender inequality interacts with other types of discrimination creating unique and enhanced forms of disadvantage among women.

If we fail to consider intersectionality, our efforts to promote gender equality might be limited in their impact and could even worsen the situation for some of the most disadvantaged women.
Steliana Nedera, Resident Representative UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As part of this innovative initiative, the Office has published the Intersectional Gender Analysis of the Third Social Impact Assessment Study of COVID-19, which throws light to how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted women suffering from multiple and compounded forms of discrimination and disadvantage. This study has shown striking data. For example, in terms of financial impact, 79% of women residing in rural areas reported a worse or much worse financial situation in comparison to a noticeably lower percentage of women from cities (67%). Also, the older the female respondent, the more acute the negative financial impact of COVID-19 has been. In terms of access to digital resources, 51% of women and 61% of women living in rural areas affirmed not using the internet versus 44% of males and 30% of women living in urban settings. Also, when looking at access to services, 25% of relatively poor women and 32% of women living in a collective accommodation reported access restriction to primary healthcare due to the COVID-19 pandemic, versus 17% of the average female respondent. 

In addition, another activity part of the Intersectionality Corner is the monthly Intersectionality training, an open space for dialogue and capacity building on the topic to increase capacities and awareness among all staff. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to promoting gender equality in development. 

To achieve gender equality, we need diverse and complex solutions that acknowledge and address the fact that gender inequality does not act alone, but together with other forms of discrimination, such as racism, homophobia, and ableism. The most important thing is to act now to leave no one behind.