A discussion that members of my PsyD cohort and I at Adler University had last semester in a humanistic-existential psychology class drew my attention to the important concept of intersectionality, which states that some human beings are multiply oppressed as a consequence of simultaneously belonging to several historically oppressed social groups (e.g., certain racial and ethnic groups, certain socioeconomic classes, and certain genders). Being a clinical psychology student undergoing training to advance social justice through my future clinical practice, my interest in the intersectionality topic was piqued. I conducted some research regarding the subject on my own time, and eventually discovered information that can help answer the questions, how have I seen intersectionality advance the cause of social justice, and how might an increase in intersectionality contribute to the building of healthier communities. I will first discuss how the research I conducted helped provide an answer for the first of the aforementioned two questions.
My research familiarized me with social democracy, a social and political movement advocating partial de-commodification of the market economy, regulation of the market in the interest of the public, full employment, and the recognition of a variety of social and economic rights, including workers’ rights and rights to healthcare, welfare, and education (Jackson, 2017). In addition to the aforementioned social, economic, and political goals, advocates of social democracy seek to advance feminist, anti-racist, pro-environmental, disability rights-related, and Indigenous rights-related goals (Jackson, 2017).
Analysis of social democratic goals shows that social democracy represents an egalitarian form of thinking that aims to ensure the health, welfare, and security of all members of society, regardless of their racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and other identities (Jackson, 2017). It can thus be argued that social democracy advocates recognize the truth of intersectionality, namely that there are people in modern society who are being multiply oppressed by virtue of being members of several historically oppressed groups. As a result of them effectively thinking in terms of intersectionality, proponents of social democracy advance the cause of social justice by endeavouring to build a society free of all manner of oppression.
I will now examine how the research I conducted regarding intersectionality helped me answer the second of the two questions mentioned at the beginning of this essay, namely, how might an increase in intersectionality contribute to the building of healthier communities. My research drew my attention to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Analysis of this important moral document demonstrates that it includes such articles as “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…” (UN General Assembly, 1948). On the basis of such articles, commentators have noted that the Universal Declaration sets forth “…a particularly comprehensive principle of non-discrimination” and calls for societal transformation ensuring the protection of all people’s human rights everywhere (Cançado Trinidade, 2008).
The above paragraph makes it clear that racial, class, gender-based and other forms of oppression all constitute human rights violations. Therefore, intersectionality can be seen as a concept referring to being multiply oppressed as a result of simultaneously belonging to several social groups that have historically had their fundamental human rights violated. If social justice advocates view intersectionality in this manner, they can become human rights advocates who engage in activism, advocacy, and educational efforts intended to increase respect for the human rights of all members of society. Viewing intersectionality as a concept descriptive of a human rights violation-related problem provides those committed to building more just and thus healthier communities with a concrete, clear goal to work towards, namely increased respect for fundamental human rights across society.
Cançado Trinidade, A. (2008). Universal declaration of human rights. United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (pp. 1–4) [On-line]. Retrieved from http://untreaty.un.org/ cod/avl/ha/udhr/udhr.html.
Jackson, A. (2017). Reflections on the social democratic tradition. Retrieved from http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/reflections_on_the_social_democratic_tradition
UN General Assembly. (1948). “Universal declaration of human rights” (217 [III] A). Paris. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/