Mar 08, 2018

International Women's Day: Inclusivity and Intersectionality - the Missing Piece to Gender Equality

Mona Silavi

Today [8 March 2018] is International Women’s Day, the day on which women from all around the world stand up for their rights and the rights of their sisters. A day on which to stand together against gender discrimination, regardless of socio-economic background, race, religion, sexual orientation, health situation or language. In order to truly tackle the discrimination facing women, one cannot disregard the multiple obstacles they face. The struggle for the recognition of and respect for women’s rights is an ongoing battle and although today is a day for the celebration of the spirit of sisterhood, many women’s voices are not heard within the feminist movement.


To fully address women’s difficulties, it is essential that societies look beyond the central issues, toward what is happening on the fringes of society, to those women that are outside of what is considered to be the mainstream. Although all achievements in the name of women are positive steps, the success of particular groups of women is not enough. The idea of sisterhood requires inclusivity and especially the inclusion of women from unrepresented Nations and Peoples.

There has been much criticism over the lack of inclusion or intersectionality in the global feminist movement. Many have argued that the movement does not understand nor take into account the experience of women of colour, women with disabilities or women from a variety of ethnic or religious backgrounds, among other marginalised groups. To remedy this, it is helpful to look at the arguments and theories having emerged and emerging from the black feminist movement, as many parallels can be made between the challenges they face, and that of indigenous and minority women.

‘Women are white, all the Blacks are men, but some of us are brave’

This quote, which forms the title of the 1982 collection of black feminist scholarship edited by Hull, Scott and Smith, truly resonates with the plight of women from unrepresented Nations and Peoples.  This phrase depicts inequalities within the feminist movement, in that the plight of black women was not, and it can be argued that it still is not, fully taken into account in the overarching feminist movement. It highlights the lack of intersectionality within both the civil rights and the feminist movements. It says that in order to be a feminist woman, they must put their race aside and in order to fight for the rights of their race, women must put their gender aside. This struggle many black women face is comparable to the struggle of women from minorities.  

In the United States, particularly in the 1960s, this was a severe issue for black women. Of course, this is not to say that all women in feminist movements were racist and all black men were sexist, but black women’s voices and experiences were not truly heard and often their role within the civil rights movement was to support to their male counterparts. The freedom of the black community was defined as the redemption of black masculinity. Whilst fighting for their rights as black, their rights as women were often suppressed. Although much has improved in terms of inclusivity within the feminist movement, in the US and beyond, the voices of black women remain largely excluded.

The limitation of women’s participation and influence in social movements was not restricted to the civil rights movement. This trend has been repeated over the time, including within liberation movements claiming they promote progressive values. Unfortunately, this attitude to women is noticeable in minority communities, who fight for their right to self-determination. Even the leaders of self-determination movements who claim believe in “progressive” values, postpone the question of achieving gender equality to after the ambition of self-determination.

Women from indigenous and minority groups stand at the crossroads of discriminations. They face patriarchal attitudes in self-determination movements on the one hand and racism and discrimination within the feminist movements on the other.

She is a woman and she is from an unrepresented nation

This double discrimination is too often ignored, as is the discrimination facing women of colour within civil rights movements.

A conflict that all indigenous and minority women who are activists are forced to go through is to decide whether they give priority to their identity as a woman or their identity as a member of an unrepresented community. An activist is faced with the dilemma to either join the liberation movement of her community and try to educate her male colleagues about women’s rights or give up her identity and join a feminist movement that will not necessarily understand, take into account or even accept her national rights activism.

This is not a decision that indigenous and minority women should have to make. Following the path that many in the black feminist movement have initiated, there must be another way. It is necessary that women from indigenous peoples and minorities’ voices, experiences and claims are heard in feminist, liberation and human rights movements across the world today. Women should also be able to initiate their own movements in which they would not be forced to separate their gender from their identity. By initiating movements aiming to empower themselves as indigenous and minority women, women would be allowed a platform but this would also demonstrate how important the inclusion their voices are for self-determination movements and feminist movements worldwide.

The participation of women in movements for minority and indigenous rights can only help them in raising their demands. The fight for dignity and collective rights should not be reserved to men and is a matter that concerns communities as whole.

The UNPO, as an advocate for indigenous and minority rights, celebrates all women on this International Women’s Day and supports their struggles to achieve respect for their rights and become active partners in achieving self-determination and defending the rights of their fellow community members.