Intersectionality 101

Toolkit arrow-right Before you start

The tool ‘Intersectionality 101’ helps demystify intersectionality and help users understand the meaning of intersectionality. It provides an explainer, exercises and resources.

Table of content

Chapter 1: Introduction to intersectionality
Chapter 2: Exercises
Chapter 3: Tools
Chapter 4: Resources on understanding intersectionality
Chapter 5: Conclusion

1. Introduction to intersectionality

Intersectionality can often sound or read like another buzzword with no meaning or power to change anything. However, intersectionality as a framework matters. When applied properly, it helps us recognise our differences and understand how these differences shape our experiences in the world. Intersectionality makes us conscious of power and privilege – who has it and who does not – and serves as a starting point for truly inclusive equity and justice work. [1]

By providing an analytical framework to understand the world, intersectionality explains the complexity of individual and group experiences, which are shaped differently because of their identities or social categories.

Through its critical lens we are also able to make overlapping vulnerabilities visible, while understanding their effects on people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). More importantly, knowing that intersectionality is anchored to a power analysis, we believe that making it part of SRHR advocacy and accountability work is vital if we are to transform systems of oppression and minoritisation that are barriers to SRHR for all.

This tool provides an introduction to intersectionality as an essential tool for developing SRHR advocacy interventions that leave no one behind. As an SRHR advocate, you will be able to effectively identify the intersecting vulnerabilities and discrimination that make existing barriers even worse. You will be more aware of systemic issues and historical inequalities, plus the societal and systemic changes that are needed.

The main objective of this tool is to promote a deeper understanding of intersectionality, and to facilitate the application and integration of an intersectional feminist framework and lens for SRHR advocacy. We want the tool to give you the instruments and resources you need to understand intersectionality from an SRHR perspective. It should also provide clear, practical ways to apply it in your advocacy work.

The tools and resources below will help you to:

  • Understand the meaning of intersectionality, plus the framework it provides, and how to explain its role in people’s life, institutions and advocacy
  • Understand intersectionality and its relevance to SRHR
  • Understand the principles of intersectionality and decolonisation as a cornerstone of African feminism
  • Understand power, privilege and inequalities
  • Understand how to apply the intersectionality framework and implement intersectional approaches

1.1 What is intersectionality?

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”

– Audre Lorde

Make Way programme working definition of intersectionality

As a programme, we defined intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different types of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality makes us aware of the interconnected nature of social categories such as ethnicity, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, etc. and how these overlap to create interdependent systems of increased discrimination or disadvantage as well as power and privilege.

Intersectionality is not a new concept, it is a feminist theory that originated from black and African American feminist analyses, and the term “intersectionality” was first used by African American legal feminist theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s building on the work of black feminist theorists and collectives for example The Combahee River Collective. Kimberle Crenshaw defines intersectionality as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”[2]

Building on the scholarship and knowledge till date, in our work, it is clear that privilege or oppression are not static. They can change over time and context. For example, a Somali doctor might have had power and privilege as an educated woman in her community in Somalia, but not while living as a refugee without access to resources at a refugee camp in Kenya. Intersectionality investigates the ways in which power intersects to influence social relations across diverse societies as well as individual experiences in everyday life. And as a programme, this understanding and framing guides our implementation.

1.2 Why is intersectionality important for SRHR advocacy?

Traditional approaches to SRHR tend to focus separately on one type of discrimination or structural oppression. So they address only specific concerns, or the symptom of power inequities, instead of tackling the issues at the root. Engaging with SRHR issues as a structural problem would involve confronting and changing the power structure itself.

An intersectional approach to SRHR means working to transform systems of oppression/minoritisation, so that everyone can live and enjoy their rights and freedoms no matter who they are and where they are located in society. Intersectionality also requires us to put the voices and experiences of the minoritised and vulnerable at the heart of what we do. And this ultimately translates into everyone’s rights being upheld. If we were to begin our analysis only from the position of power and privilege, then groups with more than one vulnerability would be left behind.

Our vision of intersectionality for health equity and justice is that there are no hierarchies of oppression. So we need to build solidarities, while upholding human rights, to fulfil this vision of everyone enjoying their SRHR.

1.3 How do we put intersectionality into practice?

Below are some of the ways we can implement intersectionality in our daily life and work. It’s important to remember that adopting an intersectional lens will require deep reflection and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, as we try to identify how we as advocates consciously or unconsciously contribute to minoritisation. It also requires a serious commitment to change, once areas of concern have been identified:

  1. Look at your own privileges. Reflect upon how all your different social identities – like gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, social class, level of education and ability – interact and give privileges and advantages which you may not even have asked for.
  2. Listen and learn. Learn to listen to and respect voices that are different to yours. Include and collaborate with diverse groups of people, especially minoritised voices that are often left behind. Educate yourself on the different kinds of discrimination that minoritised groups face. Do not expect them to put the effort into educating you.
  3. Make space. Centre stories and actions on people with lived experiences. Ask yourself if you are the right person to be speaking about certain issues, and make space for people to speak for themselves. Use your position to amplify minoritised voices.
  4. Question how things are done at both individual and institutional levels. People’s values and judgements are often reflected in policies and practices. Question your policymakers on who is being left behind, whose voices are unheard, who will be benefiting from the policy, and who will be adversely affected. Push for inclusive policies that offer equity and justice for those who are the most minoritised. Also, question how you do things within your own spheres of influence, like your home, workplace, or meetings you arrange. If you’re in charge of hiring staff, you could ask yourself, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the majority here at the expense of others? Is the workplace safe for everyone?” At home, you could ask, “What do I do in my own home that reinforces discrimination against certain groups?”
  5. Ask for disaggregated data. Most quantitative data lacks important information on the people who are the most minoritised. Ask for data to be broken down by more than just gender and ethnicity categories to understand who is minoritised and how.

Remember that intersectionality is a way of understanding and explaining complexity in the world, in people, and in the human experience. Only by looking through an intersectionality lens will we be able to ensure that no one is left behind.

In the next section you’ll find resources adapted for the Make Way Programme, plus existing resources that are useful for understanding intersectionality. The resources include exercises, tools, videos, toolkits and articles. They provide in-depth definitions and explanations of intersectionality and how it can be applied to life, institutional strengthening and work.

1.4 Intersectionality explainer videos

  1. What is Intersectionality? and  Intersectionality 101 Animated learner-friendly explainers of the basics of intersectionality.
  2. Kimberlé Crenshaw: What is intersectionality? Kimberlé Crenshaw is a civil rights advocate and professor of law and was the first to use the term intersectionality in . Here she speaks at the 2017 NAIS People of Color Conference about intersectional theory, the study of how overlapping or intersecting social identities – and particularly minority identities – relate to systems and structures of discrimination.

2. Exercises

Exercises are useful participatory and interactive tools that aid and guide the understanding and application of intersectionality as a framework and lens. The exercises shared below are useful for groups and organisations as they try to understand and apply intersectionality in the design, implementation and evaluation of SRHR advocacy interventions and practice.

Exercise 1: Privilege Walk

A privilege walk allows participants to become more aware of the power dynamics that exist within and between communities and organisations. It also ensures that those lacking power are supported and recognised in institutions and within our work and movements. The exercise provides an opportunity to think critically about our differences and similarities. How do they result in different levels of power within movements, and what are the barriers to change and organising? It also allows us as advocates to think about how our backgrounds and access can create distance between us, and how we approach advocacy.

Privilege walk exercise

Exercise 2: Values clarification

Another useful training exercise, especially for SRHR advocates, is values clarification. This is an approach that helps people understand and clarify what guides their interests, choices, actions, reactions, principles and priorities as an advocate. The approach takes into consideration the personal, socio-cultural, religious and other systems that shape a person’s world view and ethics. Value clarification exercises are helpful for deep reflection and meaningful conversations, which are necessary because SRHR issues are “sites of power contestations within families, societies, cultures and politics” [3]. Change is not possible without understanding and clarifying our values and guiding principles as advocates. The link below provides questionnaires plus scenarios for discussions and presentations for a values clarification session during an SRHR training or workshop.

More materials for conducting values clarification exercises during training/sessions on intersectionality.

Exercise 3: Shared oppressions

This 45-minute exercise was developed to highlight the disproportionate impact of institutional oppression that LGBTQ people of colour experience in areas such as employment, education and housing. It also highlights the unique intersections between homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and racism that LGBTQ people of colour face. The goal of the exercise is to help participants understand how LGBTQ people of colour are impacted by multiple systems and how this results in disproportionate impact.

Find the link here

3. Tools

3.1 How to do intersectionality

This article by Rinku Sen featured on the Narrative Initiative website and provides a link to a test for checking privileges. The text can be extracted and set in the right context to allow people to reflect on their own privileges and disadvantages. The article also reacts to the adoption of intersectionality as a buzzword, going from use in UN systems to wider use in corporations without moving beyond identity. It provides some good practices for intersectional leadership, such as curiosity and consistency.

Click here for the guide

3.2 Checklist for applying intersectionality

This checklist developed by ParlAmericas specifically focuses on the need for intersectionality in legislation, and on what using an intersectional frame of analysis tells us about women’s experiences. It provides a list of four questions that an intersectional response to issues needs to ask. More importantly, it provides a checklist for civic and political entities for applying intersectionality when reviewing legislation, budget assessment, oversight and representation.

Click here for the checklist

4. Resources on understanding intersectionality

4.1 Intersectionality toolkit  

This toolkit developed by the International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) is a guide for both individual activists and organisations. It helps you learn more about intersectionality and its principles, and provides a selection of activities to explore practice around inclusiveness. The IGLYO toolkit unpacks the ways in which people’s intersecting identities and various realities impact their lives. It gives information on key aspects that need to be taken into consideration when making your organisation intersectional, including some practical tools.

Click here for the link to the toolkit

 4.2 Best resources on intersectionality

This paper is an introduction to intersectionality theory and research. It provides the 10 best resources on intersectionality, with an emphasis on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The article first defines intersectionality, describing its role in public health, and then reviews resources on intersectionality. To arrive at the 10 best resources, the authors selected articles based on the proportion devoted to intersectionality, as well as the strength of the intersectionality analysis and its relevance to LMICs. The topics covered range from HIV, violence and sexual abuse to immunisation and the use of health entitlements. Through these 10 resources, the authors hope to spark interest and open a much-needed conversation on the importance and use of intersectional analysis in LMICs as part of understanding people-centred health systems.

Click here for link to paper

4.3 A primer on intersectionality

This information resource focuses on why and how you should move away from “single-issue organising”, and ways to build social justice movements through intersectional analysis, interventions and advocacy. It also has great insights on how to be an ally.

Click here for link to primer

4.4 A methodology to analyse the intersections of social inequalities in health

This paper discusses a method to analyse the intersections between different social inequalities, including a technique to test for differences along the entire social spectrum, not just between the extremes. The paper shows how this method can be applied to the analysis of intersectionality in healthcare access. It describes how the multiple vulnerabilities people possess can make access to healthcare more difficult for the most minoritised groups.

Click here for link to paper

4.5 Ten tips for putting intersectionality into practice

As the name suggests, this article provides 10 practical ways of putting intersectionality into practice, including the recognition of multiple struggles, intersecting issues and cross-issues. It also provides examples of these tips in action in several campaigns and advocacy plans, including ones for reproductive justice and racial justice.

Click here for link to article

5. Conclusion

This tool is a working document – a compilation of exercises, tools and resources to deepen the understanding and application of intersectionality for SRHR advocacy. We believe that SRHR for all is possible in our lifetime, especially for minoritised populations. And we have a deep appreciation for those who have created and developed resources to better understand intersectionality. We are building on this work and will continue to contribute to developing knowledge and resources on intersectionality and SRHR advocacy. This resource, in addition to other approaches, should therefore be seen as part what is necessary to build a critical mass of civil society organisations and minoritised groups who support and push for SRHR for all  – without leaving anyone behind.

If you found this tool useful, or would like to share more tools and resources for inclusion, please contact:

Olabukunola Williams
Title: SRHR Lead at Akina Mama wa Afrika


[1] Definition of Intersectionality


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