Traversing the Intersectional Corridors
BY: Esther Wasagali
‘If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable are going to fall through the cracks ‘
Kimberle Williams Crenshaw – Lawyer, Civil Rights Advocate and Intersectional Feminist
The above statement closely relates to my understanding of intersectional feminism, which is listening to and centering marginalized voices, acknowledging my privilege and being open to criticism, honoring the past, and being skeptical of what you want to know. It also means more equality, hope, humanity, acceptability, and inclusiveness of the most marginalized groups.
While intersectionality is understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination or privilege, it also identifies multiple factors of advantage or disadvantage such as gender, sex, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, disability, religion and physical appearance. These intersecting and overlapping identities may be empowering or oppressing. For example, in Uganda in the conflict and post conflict areas where the Peace Centre works, some cultures and religious beliefs, and poverty allow early/child marriage thus limiting girls’ right to access and complete education. There have been incidences of them being exchanged for money as low as 50,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $13) this has been tributed to economic downturn due to COVID 19. In some communities, women cannot effectively participate in decision making processes due to cultures that relegate women to the private sphere. In addition, some women cannot speak in the presence of men or in public. If they are to speak, they must seek permission from their husbands, such practices limit their participation in decision-making and peace processes.
Feminist intersectional approaches broadened the scope of first–wave feminism which mainly focused on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (e.g. voting rights and property rights), and second-wave broadened the debate to include a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, domesticity, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities and largely focus on the different experiences of women who are poor, immigrant and other groups. Intersectionality acknowledges women’s different experiences and identities. Intersectionality critically analyzes how interlocking systems of power, ethnicity, gender identity, marital status, gender oppression, education, political affiliation, race, and culture affect those who are most marginalized in society.
Intersectional Feminist Peace requires that we apply an intersectional lens to peacebuilding by recognizing and addressing the ways in which systems, structures, and attitudes can lead to multiple and overlapping forms of structural discrimination and disadvantage. Marginalized women need to be part of the conflict resolution and peace agreement processes as well as sit at the peace tables to voice out pertinent issues affecting them.
Wars and conflict destroy lives, livelihoods, the economy, families, and much more but women are disproportionately affected by them. Existing inequalities and inequities get magnified and even decades after a conflict, women continue to bear the brunt. Wars make women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation as social networks break down along with institutions that prevent gender-based violence. Often, the effect of conflict on women is forgotten or not given the attention it deserves. However, women in conflict and post-conflict areas have created support systems among themselves, especially victims of gender-based violence. Women have contributed to peacebuilding by mediating conflicts within their communities and spearheading peace initiatives.
According to UN Women, women constitute 10% of peace negotiators globally and only 3% of the signatories to peace agreements. For instance, in the 2018 South Sudan peace process, there was one female mediator, yet women constitute 25% of the official delegates. UN in Africa recognizes that women give in their time, careers, and lives in the search for peace and that women have meaningfully contributed to numerous peace processes. However, there is a need to consider intersectional feminism in our daily lives, and in peacebuilding. The Uganda National Action Plan III 2021- 2025 highlights actions for tackling conflict and other problems that undermine women’s participation in decision making processes; they include increasing women’s participation in promoting peace and security by encouraging women’s participation in dialogues on peace and security, support more women to participate in peace dialogues, implement programs that mentor and coach women in leadership and management. Women’s participation in the labour sector creates new openings for women to influence social and political structures and as custodians of culture and nurturers of families, we need to allow women to be represented at the peace negotiating tables or in community reconstruction efforts.
As people that interact with the most vulnerable women that have been affected by war and conflicts, we need to practice intentional listening by attentively listening when women have something to say, this will enable a deeper understanding of their experiences and needs. Providing an enabling environment that allows different categories of women to express their views promotes their participation and contributes to peace and security.
Peacebuilding programs must consider the difference in women’s economic status, location, education, low-income women, and women in the formal and informal sectors. It is vital to reorganize that woman in conflict and post-conflict areas have varying experiences due to the impact of war that destroys their confidence and ability to speak, cause trauma and inequalities amongst them and the communities they live in, deprives them of social and cultural sense of belong and hinders their ability to participate in the economy. Intersectional peacebuilding will help us understand the kinds of violence women suffer and appreciate the varied interest, needs, agencies, and view toward what constitutes inclusive and sustainable feminist peace.
I strongly believe that all women despite their differences should be involved in decision-making and peace processes and that key actors should recognize the critical role that women play in promoting intersectional peacebuilding at various levels because ‘no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of their contribution” Michelle Obama- Former First Lady USA.
NOTE: This article is an extract from the Feminist Pace Series, 3rd Edition. Download the full Magazine here: How to Build Feminist Peace Using an Intersectional Perspective