New film: why understanding intersecting inequalities vital to achieving SDGs

Published on 30 May 2018

A new film showcases why it’s so important to understand the impact of intersecting inequalities on people’s lives and the relevance of this for achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With stories from Egypt, Ghana, India, South Africa and Uganda, the film reflects on what it takes to help people overcome the intersecting inequalities that criss-cross their lives and hold the powerful to account. It provides a snapshot to the key findings of our participatory research programme: Building Sustainable Inclusion: From Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships.

Building Sustainable Inclusion‘, Vimeo(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Understanding “Intersectionality” and “intersecting inequalities” is vital for anyone working on social inclusion. The terms gained prominence through the black and LGBQTI movements in the USA and Europe. Examples of intersecting inequalities could include a woman (gender inequality), with only one arm (ability inequality) who lives in a slum (spatial inequality) has a badly paid informal job (income inequality) so occasionally resorts to working as sex worker (social inequality derived from stigma).

In this film, partners from the IDS-led Participate InitiativeCentre for Development Services (CDS) in Egypt, Radio Ada in Ghana, Praxis in India, Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) in South Africa and SOCAJAPIC in Uganda – explain what it means to understand and overcome diverse intersecting inequalities for those striving to hold powerful to account on a daily basis.

For example, in northeast Uganda, corruption and dysfunctional public structures deprive marginalised people from accessing services. Those who are marginalised and face discrimination includes a wide range of people: women, those with HIV/AIDS, the youth, people with disabilities, the elderly. But some of those who are poorest and most marginalised are also the hardest to reach. And the differences in their experiences of intersecting inequalities makes it more difficult to build collective action. So, SOCAJAPIC chose to focus on common concerns to build shared identities and group purpose.

In India, denotified tribes – that is tribes originally labelled as criminal by British colonial powers because of their activities who were subsequently “denotified” (and therefore decriminalised) by the Indian Government in the 1950s – still face stigma and discrimination. As well as the social stigma they face, their invisibilty in national statistics has resulted in an absence of data which means they are excluded from a number of services.

Presentation and panel at British Academy conference

The film was shared at last week’s British Academy Sustainable Development Programme (SDP) conference, entitled More Than Economic Growth: Overcoming the Challenges of Sustainable Development. We were also invited to host a panel which included representatives from our partners in Egypt and Uganda as well as from UNDP and UNICEF.

At the conference, grantees of the programme were organised into panels which addressed one of the following issues:

  • Creating access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy in developing countries
  • The role of security and peace in promoting sustainable development in complex environments
  • Lessons learnt from counteracting climate change and its impacts
  • Obstacles to promoting peaceful, inclusive societies and accountable Institutions

Grantees presented their research findings and provocations alongside experts from private sector, academia, multilaterals, government, and, in our case, representatives from local partner organisations.

The messages and ideas from the first three panels had an overall emphasis on the importance of data, better coordination of research partnerships between diverse disciplines and strengthening links with policymaking spheres in particular at the international and regional levels.

There was only a marginal mention of local level dynamics and the human factor such as marginalised rural and urban communities who simply cannot afford clean energy options, the push towards criminality for young people in the most conflict-affected parts of the world, or the centrality of changing consumption habits to tackle global warming.

In contrast, our panel sought to connect the day to day experiences of intersecting inequalities by people at the margins when striving for accountability to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Connecting day to day experiences of intersecting inequalities

In her opening remarks, IDS lead researcher, Jo Howard said:

“We consider Goal 16 (of the SDGs) to be a ‘gateway goal’, because it is difficult to achieve sustainable change across the SDGs without the possibility of holding authorities to account for inaction or wrongdoing against their citizens.

Our challenge to policymakers is that inclusion and accountability can’t be achieved without the sustained and meaningful participation of marginalised groups.

Our research shows how we need to understand accountability in a contextualised and intersectional way looking at questions around the particular dynamics in context, the particular barriers for marginalised groups to claim rights and build accountability, and the difficulties that people face when trying to organise for a common cause”

The panel included representatives from our partner organisations, Mohammed Farouk (CDS, Egypt) and Ben Boham from (SOCAJAPIC, Uganda). They discussed obstacles from their own contexts such as:

  • the tensions between recognising difference and building common purpose amongst marginalised groups
  • the gap between political interest in SDGs and inclusion and actual change in policies and practice
  • the lack of capacity and awareness of their responsibilities from local authorities
  • the difficulty on striking a balance between fostering people’s capacity, will and energy to speak out and being aware of the risks that this entails.

Serge Kapto (UNDP) and Shannon O’Shea (UNICEF), who were also panellists, recognised the power that participatory research, such as that being coordinated by IDS via the Participate initiative since 2012, brought initially to the design of the Post-2015 Agenda and now to the monitoring and accountability of the SDGs.

All panellists agreed that both supporting efforts of CSOs, research institutes and others to engage in-depth with people’s experiences and realities and getting government at all levels to recognise the importance of meaningful participation and accountability (i.e. SDG 16) can actually hold the key for the realisation of the other SDG goals.

Related content