Intersectionality may be a buzzword for some, but gender equality must provide a voice to all women

Kaammini Chanrai, Gender Research and Policy Manager at Business in the Community, on why 'white, middle-class and heterosexual men' should not be applauded simply for being in the room at equality events
It happened again. This time, I was at an International Women’s Day event, the theme for last week and sadly the one day of the year where we, as women, are guaranteed some attention.

One of the panellists, from the all-white female panel on stage, highlighted the attendance of men in the room. She commended the high turnout of men as if giving an evening of their time to a good cause was more impressive coming from them. Then, people started clapping.

I am, quite frankly, fed up because this is not the first time this has happened this week, let alone at all. I reflected, thinking we would never applaud white people for turning up to an event about race.
I go to a lot of events, the majority of which, unsurprisingly, are on gender equality. There is a common theme at every single one. Somebody will raise their hands and ask a question along the lines of ‘but what about men?’. They will do this as if we shut the door to any man who wants to enter the room. They’ll insinuate that we need to start including men in the conversation, as if they are the voice that’s never been heard before. Without a proper evaluation for who has chosen to be in the room and who has not, the responsibility and blame will once again fall on women.

I have a problem with this for two reasons. I will not dwell on the first reason because to me, it’s simple: men, it should be your responsibility to be as involved in these conversations. Not because you might have a daughter, or sister, or [insert female relation in man’s life]. And not because it might benefit you in some way, although it no doubt will, as our Equal Lives research in partnership with Santander UK, rightly highlights. You should make this your priority because equality is the right thing to do.

Yes, it is also better for business, but I much prefer the moral motivation over the financial. If we want to make real, sustainable and meaningful change, we have to change people’s hearts and minds, not their bank accounts. This is about power and when men, specifically white, middle-class and heterosexual men, have held power for so long, I don’t believe it is my role to beg them to have more.

My second and main problem is this: we must think about how we are including all women. This should be our priority. It is not inspirational to attend events where nobody who is given a platform to speak has had the double disadvantage that so many of us are faced with. Intersectionality may be a buzzword but, for me, it’s a reality. When I talk about intersectionality, I am referring to the overlap of different characteristics. This includes gender, but also race, class, age, disability, sexuality, wellbeing and so on. The term ‘intersectionality’, coined by sociologist Kimberlé Crenshaw, helps us to understand and appreciate the multiple dimensions of disadvantage faced by different groups.

Again, this comes back to power. We have a responsibility to include all women when we talk about gender equality because of the power dynamics at play. If your people, policies, initiatives and events are not inclusive of all women, then they do more harm than good. They create more inequalities than they resolve. They shift the problem to another place, rather than shifting the dial on a movement.

I am not here to offer men my seat at the table which they’ve occupied for so long. To be honest, this is why we as BAME women start to have our own conversations. We shouldn’t have to lean in to the white female approach towards gender equality. At Business in the Community, we are not here to change the women – we are here to change the system. And this must mean for all women. We are not in competition with one another. As bell hooks said, “Feminism is for everybody” – and there is no success for diversity without inclusion.

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