As the UN puts it, “International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity” (https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day).
Hence, the 8th of March is a day to honour womanhood; to celebrate gender–based achievements and, most importantly, to reflect on existing inequalities; on the challenges posed to achieving and respecting women’s rights worldwide, and the issues that need to be addressed in the fight for gender equality (https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-womens-day).
A useful approach to better understand, analyse and address structures of inequality and oppression is intersectional feminism. The term was first coined by civil rights activist and professor Kimberlè Crenshaw in 1989: It refers to both a reality and framework of analysis, i.e. the idea that women aren’t just that, but they have various overlapping sexual, ethnic, class and cultural identities that change the way they experience daily life, and thus inequality, oppression or privilege. Intersectionality highlights how the life experience of any given woman will differ from that of another who has a different socio-economic, cultural, and ethnic background. For example, while a white, middle class, European woman may be penalized by her gender, a black one may be at a disadvantage due to both her gender and race.
Indeed, the degree of vulnerability varies for women worldwide, and, as Guatemalan human rights activist Sonia Maribel Sontay Herrera puts it, “those who are most impacted by gender-based violence and inequalities are also the most impoverished and marginalized—black and brown women, indigenous women, women in rural areas, young girls, girls living with disabilities, trans youth and gender non-conforming youth” (https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/explainer-intersectional-feminism-what-it-means-and-why-it-matters). This is especially true when crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic occur. Contrarily to the popular narrative of “we are all in this together”, women worldwide have had to face differential impacts, issues and health risks. Intersectionality is thus an aspect which policy makers should understand and act upon when planning emergency responses and recovery.
Intersectional feminism thus acts as a reminder to individuals and organizations that one should always acknowledge their own privilege, and try to understand other people’s positions. This is especially important for organizations that are internationally active and hence are shaped by women from different cultural contexts. PROJECT-E (an NGO in which people from different backgrounds work together on a project locally rooted in Addis Ababa) also strives to practice intersectional feminism. Running the PEHI is an undeniably feminist endeavour, but the understanding of local structures; the uninterrupted dialogue between all staff and students; and achieving a critical and productive discourse are prerequisites for the organization to constantly question its intersectionality.