12.16 Intersectionality and multiple forms of oppression and privilege

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The term intersectionality is often used as a language for identity forged through systematic social relations of oppression and privilege. The word ‘intersectionality’ comes out of a metaphor coined by the critical legal theorist, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw to explain how race oppression and gender oppression interact in Black women’s lives. This theory is based in identity theory and recognises the roles different social identities play in both privilege and oppression. lntersectionality theorists seek to explain oppression and inequality across a variety of variables, including class, gender, race, ethnicity, and age. They make the important insight that not all women experience oppression in the same way. White women and black women, for example, face different forms of discrimination in the workplace. Thus, different groups of women come to view the world through a shared standpoint of ‘heterogeneous commonality’.

In the Beijing+15 regional review, it was noted that there are several groups of women and men whose human rights remain inadequately addressed in the BPFA and that not enough inter linkages exist among various sections of the Platform to provide a more comprehensive understanding of and response to human rights. These include the following:

  • women with disabilities
  • indigenous women
  • migrant women, including migrant women workers
  • internally displaced persons and refugees
  • marginalised women (such as Dalit women)
  • minority women (such as religious and ethnic groups)

It was recognised that since the adoption of the BPFA, the Asia Pacific region has seen a resurgence of conservative forces that increasingly deny women’s rights in the name of culture, religion or other identity-based constructs. Honour killings, abandonment and killing of girl-children and similar sex selective practices continue to occur. Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnic identity and sexuality was recorded as becoming more widespread among those severely affected by rapid changes linked to neo-liberal policies and new security measures.

New threats to women human rights defenders rose considerably in the five years since the last review (Beijing+15). The increase of state militarisation, terrorism and neo-liberal globalisation, silenced many rights defenders, placing them at risk and severely impacting on their freedom of expression. Perceived tensions and lack of cohesion within the women’s movement have further weakened women’s rights.

Since 2005, rising levels of conflict has led to displacement of women and girls and increasing levels of violence, including sexual violence against women by both state and non-state actors. There remains a continuing failure of the legal and justice systems to protect the rights of women.

This failure to address women’s needs and women’s dependence on the state for health and security services are twin factors that marginalise and disempower women. A general lack of knowledge of human rights further impedes women’s human rights advocacy. A key role of CSW is in the monitoring and evaluation in the follow up from the Beijing Platform for Action, including key information on the background to BPFA and linkages to human rights.