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Identity is multifaceted, and so is discrimination. The many different factors that can make up a person’s identity - race, gender, age, physical ability, or cultural background, for example - shape their experiences throughout life. When it comes to confronting discrimination based on identity, there is a growing movement within and beyond the human rights community to draw wider attention to these multiple dimensions, and to the social, economic, and historical contexts in which discrimination takes place. This method of examining the multiple forms of discrimination that different individuals may face in a holistic way is known as “intersectionality”; fundamentally, it is a recognition that discrimination is experienced in complex ways, which can often have compounding impacts on one another. Merely focusing on only one form of discrimination, such as racial identity, without considering other factors like a person’s gender or economic status, means that other, simultaneous rights violations can easily be overlooked or ignored. This can lead to a failure to address the totality of problems and structural disadvantages experienced by groups such as minority women, older people with disabilities, or LGBTI minorities. Our understanding of intersectionality is still in its infancy. Most institutions with a responsibility to prevent or remedy discrimination - like courts, government institutions, schools, and businesses - need more training and tools to incorporate it into their policies and practices. Focusing on intersectionality brings advantages; it acknowledges the complexity of peoples’ experiences, and takes into account their unique social and historical context. For example, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are all contributors to disadvantage for vulnerable populations, so including them in any contextual analysis enriches our ability to understand these populations. Intersectional approaches focus on society’s response to an individual’s multifaceted identity, rather than slotting that person into rigid categories. It also acknowledges that discrimination may be less overt now than in the past, and more multi-layered, systemic, and institutionalized. Responses must therefore be more sophisticated, and greater effort is necessary to elevate sensitivity to the connections between race, gender, and social class. That in turn could modernize our understanding of and responses to discrimination - moving beyond the compartmentalization that has characterized most approaches to date.

Achieving Diversity and Inclusion


Weakening of human rights