“If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks.” These words, spoken by the American lawyer, scholar, and activist, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, capture the urgency and importance of intersectionality. In a nutshell, we need intersectionality so that no one is left behind.
Originally coined by Crenshaw in 1989, “intersectionality” refers to the idea that systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, colonialism, and classism intersect with one another and overlap, creating multiple levels of injustice. “All inequality is not created equal,” she says.
Although it is credited to Crenshaw, the concept has been around longer. Seven years earlier in 1982, the Black lesbian poet, Audre Lorde, encapsulated the essence of intersectionality: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Intersectionality was quickly embraced as a concept by the Combahee River Collective, a Black lesbian social justice collective, and became a way for Black women to critique and expand definitions of feminism. Since then, legendary feminists from Audre Lorde to bell hooks, have layered their voices onto our understanding of what intersectionality is and how it can be applied.
While intersectionality is a tool for understanding oppression, it is also a framework that is essential to eliminating oppression. Without an intersectional understanding of structural barriers, we can’t achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty or create lasting change.
Here are nine contemporary activists using the framework of intersectionality to fight for equity and justice.
1. Angela Davis
In 1972, the former Black Panther was facing the death penalty. Today, she’s still advocating for change.
In many ways, Angela Davis is the grandmother of intersectionality. She advocates for a feminism that “recognizes the interconnections between gender violence and racist violence, between individual violence and structural violence.”
Feminism, she wrote, “has to involve a consciousness of capitalism and racism and colonialism and post colonialities and ability and more genders than we can even imagine, and more sexualities than we ever thought we could name."
An activist, professor, and the author of Women, Race and Class, Davis has spent her life campaigning against oppression, white supremacy, and police violence. Fifty years since she first began sounding the intersectional feminism horn, her message rings as poignantly as ever.
2. Leah Thomas
Climate change is racist. In fact, research has shown that people of color breathe in more polluted air, suffer from more environmentally-related medical conditions, are on the front line of natural disasters, and are displaced at much higher rates than other groups.
Leah Thomas aims to raise awareness of how communities of color are most hurt by climate change, and how to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement itself.
Thomas founded the Intersectional Environmentalist platform. Follow to learn more about the intersection between climate and social justice.
3. Shani Dhanda
As a South Asian woman who experiences disability, Shani Dhanda says: “Intersectionality has always played a big part in my life. I experience the world through all of those lenses and sometimes I don't know if I'm being judged on my gender, race, or disability.”
She campaigns on making work more inclusive for people with disabilities and uses her platform to raise awareness of the intersection between poverty and disability.
I don’t know why so many people working in wealth management keep requesting to connect and speak with me.— Shani Dhanda 💥 (@ShaniDhanda) May 27, 2022
If you work in wealth management, I think you should know:
👉🏽 Nearly half of everyone in the UK that lives in poverty is disabled or lives with a disabled family member.
4. Blair Imani
Blair Imani is a writer, mental health advocate, and historian who describes herself as “living at the intersections of Black, Queer, and Muslim identity.”
Known for her educational bite-sized videos, Imani’s work centers women and girls, global Black communities, and the LGBTQ+ community. As an educator and influencer, semi-retired organizer, and public speaker, Blair Imani is dedicated to making the world a better place and amplifying the voices and work of those fighting the good fight.
5. Valdecir Nascimento
Having grown up in an impoverished neighborhood on the periphery of Salvador, Valdecir Nascimento now works at the intersection of gender and racial equality in Brazil to combat the exploitation of the country’s young Black domestic workers.
These workers, who are almost exclusively women, are some of the most marginalized people in the South American nation, facing low wages, exploitation, and job insecurity. According to a recent study by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 5 million women in Brazil make a living as domestic workers but most are paid less than less than $50 per month. What’s more, just 24% of them have working papers or receive any form of benefits.
Her work continues to be grounded in community and civic advocacy that works towards respect for domestic workers. She states “From where I stand: “We are the solution in Brazil, not the problem”. #BlackHistoryMonth#CiteBlackWomenpic.twitter.com/m8iNaXFNOy— Cite Black Women. (@citeblackwomen) February 1, 2022
“It’s necessary for young Black women to take on this fight,” Nascimento says, “we are the solution in Brazil, not the problem.”
6. Julian Gavino
Julian Gavino, who was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, is an NYC-based model, writer, and activist for the trans disabled community.
He uses his platform to speak out on the intersectional discriminations he has experienced online as a disabled person and transgender man and pushes for greater representation in the fashion industry.
Follow Julian on Instagram.
7. Xiye Bastida
Climate activist Xiye Bastida speaks on stage at Global Citizen Live in Central Park.
Xiye Bastida is a Mexican climate justice activist and member of the indigenous Otomi-Toltec nation. Growing up in Mexico, Bastida saw the effects of climate change firsthand when her hometown experienced droughts and floods.
She is an organizer with Fridays For Future and the co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative, an international youth-led organization that focuses on highlighting the intersectionality of the climate crisis.
8. Sonya Renee Taylor
Sonya Renee Taylor describes herself as “fat, black, queer, bald, and neurodivergent.” She is also an author, poet, speaker, humanitarian, and social justice activist.
Taylor is the Founder and Radical Executive Officer of The Body is Not An Apology, a digital media and education company committed to “radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice.”
The foundational belief of The Body is Not An Apology is that inequity, oppression, and injustice are a manifestation of our inability to make peace with the body — our own and other people's. Through educational materials and community-building, Taylor’s company fosters radical, unapologetic self-love, which she believes translates into radical human love in action and service towards a more just, equitable, and compassionate world.
9. Matcha Phorn-In
A Thai lesbian feminist and human rights defender, Matcha Phorn-In works to address the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ people, many of whom are Indigenous, in crisis settings in Thai villages on the border with Myanmar. Each year, these communities are hit by environmental collapse from landslides to floods and fires. At these times of crisis, the needs of LGBTQIA+ people are often forgotten.
“Humanitarian programs tend to be heteronormative and can reinforce the patriarchal structure of society if they do not take into account sexual and gender diversities,” she says. For example, disaster relief programs tend to prioritize a woman if she has a husband and children as they are recognized as part of an official family unit. A gay or lesbian couple, on the other hand, isn’t recognized as such and so are omitted from receiving aid.
People globally face many intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization every day, for many different reasons. Unjust social, political, and economic systems perpetuate this discrimination and keep people trapped in poverty.
This June, take our Equity Month Hero Challenge to learn how we can all be champions for equity and justice every day, and earn your Equity Month Hero badge to wear proudly on your Global Citizen profile. Take the Challenge now.