Intersectionality: Ask the Other Question

March 2019

… increased awareness and traction of the concept of ‘intersectionality’ has not yet translated into a deep understanding of its implications or well-defined and
readily available tools and processes for development actors to understand and engage with myriad identities.

What is intersectionality? How can you apply it in practice? What relevance does it have for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)? This short article delves into some of the key proponents and literature that gave rise to the concept of intersectionality, the debates that informed its evolution and use, and shares some insights on how to ‘ask the other question’ to inform more nuanced development approaches.

When designing WASH interventions that endeavour to ‘leave no one behind’, ‘do no harm’ and reduce inequalities, it is important that practitioners, policymakers and researchers are aware of the debates on intersectionality, to inform good practice and contribute to the growing evidence base.

This article has emerged from a research project entitled Gender in WASH: Partnerships, Workforce and Impact Assessment, currently underway and led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures-University of Technology (ISF-UTS) and partners. The project explores some key questions on intersectionality: how can working with gender equality organisations support WASH organisations to address power structures that lead to multiple levels of marginalisation, in order to contribute to broader progressive and inclusive social change? What are the key structural factors, including relevant legislation, policies and cultural norms affecting gender parity, and the lived experiences of people in that workforce? How can issues related to intersectionality be addressed within the design and sampling approach of a multi-dimensional index that seeks to assess the impacts of WASH programmes on gender equality, and equally, in the design of appropriate qualitative methods?

The authors hope to support the WASH sector’s engagement with, and use of, the concept of intersectionality, so as to ensure that the voices of those ‘multiply disadvantaged’ individuals and groups are placed at the centre of programming, and that the structural factors that give rise to inequality and oppression are effectively challenged.

Additional details

PublisherInstitute for Sustainable Futures & University of Technology Sydney
ThemesChallenging contexts, Gender, Gender and equity, Gender transformative WASH, Social marginalisation, Social norms

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