What is Intersectional Feminism? And 5 reasons we need it!

We’re two weeks into Women’s Month in South Africa, a country where if you are a woman or identify as one you’re automatically a target for violence, sexual assault, discrimination and prejudice at the hands of men. Women’s Month in a country where every three hours a woman is sexually assaulted is the height of irony. This deep inequality between men and women is rooted in patriarchal and misogynistic ideals where men see women as objects and not as an equal. This is where intersectional feminism comes in.

It’s a term that was coined by law professor, civil rights activist and intersectional feminist Kimberl√© Crenshaw in 1989. Unlike “traditional” feminism or white feminism, intersectional feminism highlights how different types of oppression overlap or intersect. Specifically, it takes into account someone’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability and class. All of these factors impact one another and play a role in the oppression of women. Whereas white feminism doesn’t take into account these forms of oppression, and instead allows white women to hold the power by not acknowledging the struggles of women who aren’t white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class etc.

Here are five reasons why intersectional feminism remains crucial today:

1. Not everyone’s impacted the same by crises

The Covid-19 pandemic is a great illustration of this. All across the globe, we have seen how the pandemic has impacted people of color disproportionately more than white people. The issues faced by women of color and those of the LGBTQIA+ community have been inflamed by the pandemic with most governments and institutions ignoring requests for help or intervention. Intersectional feminism understands that women are among the most vulnerable when it comes to crises and that their needs are as much of a priority as everyone else’s.

2. Injustices must be challenged

At its core, intersectional feminism challenges and dissects injustices. Most problems are interconnected and many communities are facing these issues head on daily. It’s important for us to collaborate and find solidarity so we can collectively dismantle the systems and power structures that keep these oppressive systems in place.

3. It helps us understand power structures

Understanding how oppressive power structures work means there’s a greater chance of being able to successfully tackle inequalities and injustices. Otherwise, there’s a high chance of us continuing to perpetuate them.

4. It gives the oppressed and marginalised a voice

We live in a world where the powers that be are mostly white and male. These people have put systems in place to ensure their superiority over everyone else at any cost. With intersectional feminism the oppressed are seen, heard, included and given the dignity they deserve. This is crucial if we want to create sustainable systemic change.

5. Makes people aware of their privilege

Being aware of your privilege can be a very powerful tool, because it changes the way you view and interact with the world around you. It allows you to look at your own prejudices, biases and unconscious beliefs and gives you the opportunity to interrogate them. It also allows you to be a better ally to those who are vulnerable and marginalised.