Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. It is a series of social and political movements and philosophies aimed at identifying, developing, and achieving gender, political, cultural, personal, and social equality. In India, such women's movements have been happening for ages without actually taking on the name of "feminism". However, in modern times, the approach and range of feminism have been questioned to not include the marginalized sections of society and their experiences. "Mainstream feminism" has been stated to be concerned about only the issues of upper-caste, heterosexual and able-bodied women in India. Thus, intersectionality is significantly becoming the need of the hour.
Intersectionality in essence is an approach to analyse the intertwining of social and cultural roles, identities, and categories, which produce multiple axes of oppression. Intersectionality establishes that each individual has their own authentic experiences of discrimination and oppression. It takes into account all those factors which can be responsible for marginalizing an individual, i.e., gender, race, caste, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. Intersectionality also looks forward to a more inclusive approach that takes into account all these oppressed identities.
In terms of experiences of women, intersectionality is the lens that helps us identify the various systems which define their patterns of oppression. The experiences of marginalized women cannot be summarized under mainstream feminism because their experiences are not just elucidated by their gender. Their class, caste, ethnicity, and various other factors, along with gender, play a decisive role in shaping their experiences. In India, which is a land of innumerous class and caste divisions, these problems become more delicately pronounced. For example, a Dalit woman who experiences misogyny and caste discrimination experiences misogyny differently than a Brahmin woman and caste discrimination differently than a Dalit man. The amount of intimate partner violence faced by a lesbian would be very different from a cis woman. Any efforts to tackle injustices and inequalities faced by the marginalized sections without the intersectional approach may lead to the perpetuation of the same systems.
Ignorance of the intersectional approach has led to more and more oppression of marginalized women over the years. This problem has been persistent for decades and centuries now. Since the time of freedom struggle and even after that, poor and lower caste women were not given their due importance. Even though poverty was a major force behind the participation of women in the freedom struggle, those women's concerns were never brought to the limelight. As a result of the generalization of women's problems, various sub-groups were formed in India to fight against the injustice and oppression faced by different sections of women. These sub-groups were then forced to start from scratch because their issues were not even validated then. All of this was a direct consequence of the lack of an intersectional approach and thus, it has been drastically altering the experiences of women from marginalized communities.
Another aspect of Intersectionality is that it does not intend to negate the struggles of upper caste or mainstream women in any sense. It just provides a better approach to include the struggles and experiences of all those women also, who are not given a voice in mainstream feminism. As Dr. Mary John, a professor in women's studies and feminist politics, states about intersectionality, oppression faced by one community cannot be explained in terms of the addition of oppression faced by two other slightly more privileged communities. We cannot just say that Dalit women are doubly oppressed or trebly oppressed than Brahmin or Dvija women. The oppression faced by Dalit women is different and unique that those faced by Brahmin or Dvija women. These experiences simply cannot be compared on any terms. The oppression faced by one community can be extremely different from that faced by any other community in many respects. This is what intersectionality intends to bring to notice.
Every feminist needs to reconsider its' stand and work towards being more inclusive, i.e., become an intersectional feminist. There are a few steps that can be followed to achieve this.
● Check your privilege – Middle class, educated, able-bodied, heterosexual – each of these social identities puts people in a position of privilege even if they don't demand it consciously. To develop an intersectional approach, one must recognize these privileges and acknowledge them. Only then, can we check the discriminations faced by the not so privileged women and many a time done by ourselves as well.
● Listen and learn – Developing an intersectional approach also demands listening to the experiences and views of marginalized women and learning from them. Another important aspect is also to unlearn many pre-defined concepts to include and collaborate with the diversity of women and bring them to the mainstream. Also, one must remember that it should not be the sole responsibility of the marginalized women only to educate people of their experiences and concerns. It should be everyone's responsibility to bring this to the forefront.
● Make space – One must remember not to speak for or speak over the marginalized sections. Always make space for lived and relevant experiences. One should always consider whether a particular story will be more efficiently communicated by them or through a marginalized person who has experience in that area and one must always make space for them.
● Watch your language – We often use terms that are derogatory for marginalized communities. We frequently use them without even realizing their impact. One must recognize and accept the correct usage of such terms and evolve their language.
People from marginalized communities have been facing injustice and oppression for ages in all fields of life. It's high time to broaden our vision to include all such people in the mainstream movement and work towards creating sustainable developments for them as well. When the feminist movements become more inclusive and diverse then only can they be called the movement of the nation and have a true impact on all citizens.
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