Viewing Women's 'Human' Rights through an Intersectional Lens

Dec 14, 2017 07:02 IST

Patriarchy is as old as the hills.


No matter what theory you use to explain it – be it a leaf out of Gerda Lerner’s book or a socio-economic understanding based on communism – it all ultimately dovetails to the truth of male dominance over all gender and sex identities that are not male.

This narrative fits like a glove everywhere in the world: be it in a household in rural Rajasthan where a father is busy contemplating who to marry his eight-year-old daughter to, or a street in Chennai where a man who has been rejected has just hacked to death the woman who turned him down; be it in DR Congo where women have been raped by warlords living off conflict minerals, or in China where unmarried women over twenty-seven are treated as “left behind women;” be it in a social set up where a Dalit woman is not able to access a benefit under affirmative action because someone privileged has successfully taken it away or in an African-American woman finds herself being paid significantly much lower than a white man doing the same work; or be it in a community where a disabled woman has no workplace that is amicable to her or where a trans woman is excluded because she transitioned.

And yet, if you look closely, the narrative is complicated by the presence of multiple factors that constitute each individual woman’s identity. Place them all in a row: the child bride, the woman who said no, the survivor in the Congo, the left-behind woman in China, the Dalit Woman, the African American Woman, the disabled woman and the trans woman.


Patriarchy affects them all: but each of them also has an identity attribute that makes patriarchy and its impact on them even tougher to handle.

And that’s why, a one-size fits all approach to rationalizing the truth that women’s rights are human rights is only going to go so far. We need to have stronger notions in place: the child bride’s rights are human rights, the woman who said no has human rights, the survivor in the Congo has human rights, the left-behind woman in China has human rights, the Dalit Woman’s rights are human rights, the African American Woman’s rights are human rights, the disabled woman’s rights are human rights and the trans woman’s rights are human rights.

We have learned, through it all, that the only way we can frame successful strategies for the rightful respect of all of their human rights is to adopt the lens of intersectionality.


Recently, at The Red Elephant Foundation, we began an online graphic-novel styled story series called Intersectional Musings. We aim to invite women to express their personal stories as a navigation through gender and multiple identity attributes, and present a compelling case for intersectionality. Even with our app, Saahas, we recognize a survivor’s needs and choices, and offer up comprehensive support systems that respond to a survivor’s immediate requirements. We have learned, through it all, that the only way we can frame successful strategies for the rightful respect of all of their human rights is to adopt the lens of intersectionality. A narrative that takes away attention from the truth that women’s experiences are intersectional is doing grave injustice to inclusion and approaches to facilitate gender equality.

Also Read: Women Rights India: Where do we stand? What are we to give up yet?

Kirthi Jayakumar is an artist, activist, actor and writer from Chennai. She founded and runs The Red Elephant Foundation.

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