Intersectionality – a way to better reflect the reality of equality & discrimination

On 30 April we gathered our members to discuss how to promote equality and tackle intersecting inequalities and socioeconomic discrimination. Feeding into the discussion and introducing their recent work on the topic were Tamás Kádár and Katrine Steinfeld from Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies. The aim was to encourage our members to think beyond their respective field of expertise and to show how realities lived by victims of discrimination can often not be put in one protected ground only.

European non-discrimination law is very fragmented to say the least. Non-discrimination directives protect against discrimination in the field of employment on the grounds of gender, race and ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. Outside the employment field however, individuals are formally granted no protection from discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief. While socioeconomic status is not covered by EU equal treatment legislation, it is recognised in the EU Victims’ Rights Directive.

Despite the pressing need to adopt strong non-discrimination legislation at European level – something Social Platform strongly advocates for – another discussion is taking place at academic level, questioning the overall way discrimination cases are currently being handled.

Every person holds more than one characteristic covered under equal treatment legislation: every person has a gender, an age, a sexual orientation, a racial or ethnic background and a religion or belief or lack thereof. Supporters of the concept of intersectional discrimination argue these intersections create specific and unique realities for individuals, which are not adequately reflected in existing single ground or multiple discrimination approaches.

One of the first authors to address the topic of intersectionality was Kimberlee Crenshaw, who argued that black women are at risk of being excluded from feminist theory as well as the anti-racism policy discourse, because both are based on a concrete set of experiences that do not necessarily reflect the reality lived by black women. In line with that reasoning, black women may experience discrimination different to either white women or black men. Crenshaw argues that certain characteristics signal privilege, while others signal disadvantage, which is why highlighting relationships of domination and subordination should be the basis for capturing disadvantage suffered by victims of discrimination. On the one hand white women can, for example, be victims of discrimination based on their gender, but can also be the beneficiaries and even perpetrators of racism. On the other hand black men can be victims of discrimination on the ground of their race, while being the beneficiaries and perpetrators of sexism. Crenshaw argues focusing on protected grounds separately homogenises protected grounds and renders those at the intersections, in this case black women, invisible.

In times where discrimination cases are most often only based on single grounds, incorporating the concept of intersectional discrimination in legal systems might be a little far-fetched. The massive lack of disaggregated data on grounds other than gender and age makes it even more difficult to really understand intersectional experiences.

Our discussions showed that intersecting discrimination is both complex and new for many of us; this was therefore a first exchange that we will continue. As Social Platform we are committed to further improving equality and diversity within our own sector in order to better lead by example, in the hope that decision-makers and institutions will join out efforts.

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