Intersectionality as an approach in addressing violence, education and employment

The pandemic has swept everyone irrespective of one’s gender, age, class, caste, tribe, religion and ethnicity.

By Marbabiang Syiemlieh, Naphibanmer Wankhar and Arwan Raplang Lyngdoh, Faculty from Martin Luther Christian University, Shillong, Meghalaya


The COVID-19 pandemic, a new global disaster that has led to the ramification of the society and the country at large and has taken effect at the economic, social, emotional, and psychological levels. The repercussions differ from one person to another depending on gender, age, class, caste, tribe, ethnicity. Some of the social concerns ascending during the pandemic will be highlighted and discussed. 

Violence against women, the ghastly social atrocity that seems unceasing in the whole country despite laws and legislation being enforced escalates. The National Commission for women, India reported that there are a total of 19,730 complaints of crime against women in 2019 as compared to 23,722 in 2020, the year of the lockdown. In Meghalaya alone, the crime against women reported before the Meghalaya State Commission for women during 2020 is 114. The National Family Health Survey- 5 2019-20 found that in Meghalaya women between 18-49 years who experience spousal violence is 16 per cent, women between 18-49 years who experience violence during their pregnancy is 1.6 per cent, and women between 18-29 years who experience violence during or before they attain the age of 18 years is 6.7 per cent. When reflecting on these figures, it might not look significant enough considering the population but these numbers speak volumes as we all know, many go unreported. 

COVID-19 has badly affected the educational sector. UNESCO reported in March 2020, that there are 290.5 million students who are affected since the closure of schools in 13 countries. In India, more than 32 crores of students have been affected by the various restrictions and the nationwide lockdown. As the country is experiencing the second wave of COVID-19, education continues in the digital form. Many recent studies on pedagogy point to online learning as one of the best solutions during the pandemic’. Teachers facilitate learning and assign work to students via the internet and a variety of platforms for communication such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Classroom, and Google meet to name a few. Online learning does have a positive impact and paves the way for blended learning, increases digital literacy, and improves self-learning among students of the digital age. On the contrary, in a state like Meghalaya, many students and teachers are reported to fall behind in receiving and providing education due to poor network connectivity, and thus, the present learning system may have a negative impact. It is also found that there is a huge disparity in terms of privileged and underprivileged students accessing online education. Students who come from rural areas and low socioeconomic backgrounds may not have access to high-speed internet and digital gadgets making them vulnerable and appear incompetent in the eyes of their teachers. Moreover, with accessing education online, educated parents are able to guide their ward but some may not have an adequate level of education to do so. Another downside of the pandemic is the inability or delayed payment of educational fees whereby some parents may face unemployment in such times. The lockdown thus, exacerbate vulnerabilities that were already existing.

Another social concern is the employment sector. The lockdown since mid-May, 2021, has hindered many businesses except those termed essential. Daily wage workers have again been affected especially the ones who derive their earnings from businesses like shoes and textile, tailoring, contractors and construction labourers, domestic helpers, hawkers, porters, and the list goes on. The double burden is that the suffering of such groups of people are those who are from a lower socioeconomic status. The lockdown has been able to protect only a few workers mainly those with professional, desk, managerial, or administrative work. While many others are suffering from pain, poverty, malnutrition, and health complications including mental health.

Having surfaced these issues, the pandemic has swept everyone irrespective of one’s gender, age, class, caste, tribe, religion and ethnicity. However, the state cannot view the sufferers as a single cohort or homogenous group. The pandemic has kept the state in a strenuous situation and hence created an uproar among the vulnerable even though, various measures were taken to meet the demands. To understand the experiences of these heterogeneous groups of people, let us view them through the lens of intersectionality. Intersectionality as a concept was introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw an American lawyer and civil rights activist, in 1989 to bring people’s attention to the very unique experiences of living as an African-American woman in the United States. Intersectionality means that each person inhabits many identities which intersect with social identity. One cannot forget that we occupy many identities such as gender, sexuality, economic status, religion, tribe, disability, roles in family and society and many others and all these identities play a role in how we experience the world and at times, these different identities can be advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation and circumstances we encounter. 

For instance, many cases go unreported on violence against women, children, and individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community for fear of being stigmatized and discriminated against or for loss of economic support. How does one who has become a victim to such atrocity transpire fear? Perhaps, the family background that one comes from, the economic status of the family, the low educational qualification, the gender, the ethnicity act as barriers and hence, they do not want to report it. We all have heard that some families and victims compromise with the perpetrator after the sexual violence act or do not want to report it for fear of being judged. Each person with different identities experience the atrocities differently or are being treated differently under the same crime and this is an example of intersectionality. 

Secondly, with the lockdown, different educational institutions have enforced online classes for all. However, we have all witness and are aware that many schools in the rural areas have shut down and there is no learning. Online classes are apparent only in the urban sector provided the child has access to technology. Thus, there is a digital divide, and children because of their age, gender, class and socioeconomic status have fallen prey to the gruesome COVID-19. 

Thirdly, concerning employment, family diversity needs to be relooked with intersectionality and equity lens as a family is not homogenous.  It includes single mothers, orphan children, and families with bread earners having occupations like daily wage earners, domestic help, street vendors to name a few where the lockdown has brought distraught and stress to the family. Lockdown in their eyes was not regarded as a way of combating the pandemic but deprivation of their livelihood. Many protested because they find it difficult to make ends meet and are in agony to watch their young ones wail for food as they go to bed starving and, yearn for a better tomorrow. Although the MLAs and MDCs, traditional institutions or the Dorbar Shnong, social, religious, business organisations, philanthropists, crowd funders and other well-wishers have partially provided for their basic needs, in addition to the relaxation of certain restrictions that may have eased the sufferings of daily wage workers, we still need to widen our view at society through the lens of intersectionality.   

Therefore, with all this social distress in our midst, how can we apply an intersectional lens into our lives? Eminently, empathy looks like a key factor. However, it is easier said than done unless, we acknowledge our own unconscious bias, perceptions, and judgments of others which everyone holds. Many times we feel that our intentions or actions are fair, instead, we might unknowingly display some sort of biasness unintentionally. It is significant to note that biases are destructive and can hamper our judgment and impact our relationship with others in our personal and professional growth. Therefore, it is imperative to begin by examining our own identities or how we are socially situated in this world which is also known as positionality, the notion that personal values, beliefs, location, influence how one understands the world. In other words, we explicitly express the biases that might interplay with the group that we are working with or be conscious of our biases. We can start by being mindful and sensitive to the various identities that one may hold, and be open to understanding how it may have shaped us. For example, understanding the background of the commercial sex workers and the reasons for taking up the trade rather than judging them because of the occupation they are in. Moreover, we could also be aware of and acknowledge the multiple struggles of other individuals irrespective of their experiences and their intersectional identities and the impact it has on their lives. Perhaps, this could be of significance if we wish to express empathy and support. Another important step is to hold space for people most impacted by an issue; talk and speak about it in different groups like our family, friends, colleagues, etc. and expand our circles so that no one group is speaking on behalf of another or speaking over another. Intersectionality is an interconnected network where all the identities are interconnected in one way or another. Keeping the imagery of the web in our minds in this way can help us adopt the lens of intersectionality in our lives.  

Martin Luther Christian University in collaboration with ENFOLD Proactive Health Trust, India a non-governmental organization in Bangalore has conducted capacity building for teachers and workshops on gender, reproductive health, and life skills education for the students whereby intersectionality is one of the topics discussed. During our workshops with the students, it was found that many students, as well as faculty, are not aware of the concept and the impact intersectionality has in our everyday lives. Post-workshop, we find that these young adults expressed the importance of applying the concept of intersectionality in their daily lives and the need to view the world around them, not just from their subjectivity. 

To conclude, one can be mindful to have an intersectional approach in addressing or understanding any person, event, situation, or circumstances and like Kimberle Crenshaw said “If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks”.

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