Shining a Light on Intersectional Feminism
March 8th is International Women's Day
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge – which might mean different things to different people, but for me, it’s a reminder that we are responsible and in charge of our thoughts and actions to call out gender bias and inequality that we experience or see around us.
Often, when we speak of women’s inequality (such as the gender pay gap or disproportionate levels of domestic abuse), disabled women are excluded from these statistics and conversations. In the same way, when progress is made, the celebrations tend to ignore the continuous discrimination against and towards disabled women. Though feminists have campaigned against social hierarchy for decades – it is predominantly privileged women that have been afforded progress and substantial change.
Disabled women need to be given a larger, more accessible platform and be amplified by the wider feminist movement.
More marginalised women have been denied the same social improvements as their more palatable counterparts. This situation has created a disconnect between the mainstream feminist movement and disabled, queer, and BIPOC women. We must work harder to bridge and create an inclusive, intersectional feminist movement.
Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ in 1989, following her work on critical race theory. She argued that in a legal context (but also in wider society), Black women should not have to pick whether they wish to either be seen as women or be seen as Black in courts when they file a discrimination lawsuit.
As it is most likely that it is both a woman’s gender and their race that exacerbate the inequalities they experience. Crenshaw’s ‘intersectionality’ is now used to encompass identities of race, disability, gender, class, nationality, and sexuality and how together, they create overlapping systems of oppression.
Intersectionality has become a ‘buzzword’ and has gained significant traction as a theoretical approach. The interests of women of colour and disabled women are very important to me. My identity as a disabled WOC has put me in situations where I have had to pit the different forms of discrimination that I experience against each other. I shouldn’t need to separate my identities. Guardian columnist Frances Ryan rightly asked, ‘Can I be disabled on a Monday and a woman on a Tuesday?’
My identity as a disabled WOC has put me in situations where I have had to pit the different forms of discrimination that I experience against each other.
Crenshaw’s intersectionality offers a way to mediate the tension and build equitable solutions between multiple identities to avoid the practiced focus on specific-group activism. Audre Lorde said, ‘there is no thing as a single-issue struggle’ as no one has ‘single-issue lives’. The critical work of Black feminists can be a framework to speak about the inclusion of disabled women, recognising that many disabled women are Black too.
Within feminist spaces, women of colour and disabled women’s interests remain marginalised either through explicit discrimination, or implicitly driven by a continued focus on white able-bodied feminism in their praxis.
For example, campaigns about gender pay gaps are negligent of the systemic barriers disabled women face getting into work, disabled women are often denied their sexuality while their identity is likely to be turned into ‘inspiration-porn’. Disabled women need to be given a larger, more accessible platform and be amplified by the wider feminist movement.
On International Women’s Day, I #ChooseToChallenge the marginalisation of disabled women within the feminist movement by upholding an intersectional lens to amplify the voices of and centre disabled women within the movement. Centring those of us who exist at the intersections of oppression provides the only chance of pushing against inequality and creating lasting social change that is truly inclusive. It is the acknowledgment of this shared fight that can unite us all.
With greater unity comes greater power. We must all work together to ensure that no woman is left behind and without a platform on International Women’s Day as well as all other days of the year.