Using intersectionality in policymaking and analysis
Last week the Equality Analysis Team published our evidence synthesis on the concept of intersectionality, along with an accompanying summary. This is an output from our Equality Data Improvement Programme (EDIP).
Intersectionality is a rich concept that has been used to articulate and analyse the lived reality of those who experience multiple inequalities, particularly within Black feminism. If applied correctly, intersectionality has the potential to further our understanding of structural inequality in Scotland.
Whilst interest in the concept of intersectionality has been growing in recent years, the literature reviewed for this report was oftentimes complex and aimed at an academic audience. In this blog I hope to demystify the concept by providing some key insights into intersectionality and how it can be applied in a policymaking and analytical context.
What is Intersectionality?
For the purposes of our report, the team recognised the need to identify common themes or assumptions underpinning its usage. Looking across the available literature, the foundational elements of intersectionality can be understood as:
- A recognition that people are shaped by their simultaneous membership of multiple interconnected social categories. A person’s membership of social categories could be determined, for example, by their protected characteristics (such as sex, age, race, disability), their socio-economic background, the place they live, or their employment status or occupation. These categories interact to shape who people are, their lived experiences and the opportunities readily available to them.
- The interaction between multiple social categories occurs within a context of connected systems and structures of power. The context could be features of a country’s governance (such as the laws, policies, governments) or more local environments (such as the school or workplace that a person attends, or the neighbourhood in which they live). A recognition of inequality of power within these contexts is key to intersectionality.
- Structural inequalities, reflected as relative disadvantage and privilege, are the outcomes of the interaction between social categories, power relations and contexts. For example, the relative disadvantage experienced by a young disabled woman seeking employment in Scotland is likely to be determined by wider Scottish policy landscape, alongside features of the local labour market.
Intersectionality and policymaking
For the purposes of the report, we defined the ‘intersectional approach’ as a way of identifying, understanding and tackling structural inequality in a given context that accounts for the lived experience of people with intersecting identities. For example, intersectionality helps us to understand how people experience services, such as education and healthcare, differently as a result of their identity and unequal power dynamics.
To take an intersectional approach, policymakers should ensure that they:
- Do not give higher status to any one inequality of experience or discrimination.
- Consider their own power dynamics and experiences when making decisions.
- Understand the available evidence in context, including the historical and contemporary structures of inequalities in wider society, and within local contexts.
- Recognise that there is a need for more intersectional data on outcomes, and benefit in the use of intersectional approaches to policymaking. Where an intersectional approach has been used, there is often scope for improvement.
Intersectionality and analysis
Adopting an intersectional approach within an analytical context requires that analysts:
- Practice reflexivity by asking themselves questions about their own social positions, values, assumptions, interests and experiences and how these can shape the research and data analysis design and process, as well as putting the research and statistical findings into context.
- Consider how they can involve people with lived experience of intersecting identities to ensure they have a central voice in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies. Use of participatory approaches to actively engage people with intersecting characteristics throughout the research process from design through to implementation and dissemination can help to address the power imbalance between decision makers, such as policymakers and analysts, and marginalised groups.
- Reduce barriers to participation to ensure that marginalised groups are able to take part in research, including ensuring venues are fully accessible and suitably located, translations are provided where necessary, using trusted mediators where necessary, and providing incentives and reimbursements to contributors in exchange for their input.
- Consider the range of options for carrying out intersectional data analysis taking account of and setting out the advantages and disadvantages of techniques ahead of data collection, and select the most appropriate statistical techniques to produce robust intersectional data analysis.