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Why Gender Equality Is About More Than Gender

Women working together
Women working together
Stephania Varalli

Stephania Varalli

Co-CEO, Women of Influence

Six years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary officially added the term “intersectionality” to its lexicon, and in 2017, Merriam Webster followed suit — because, as it explained, “Lately, the word seems to be popping up everywhere.” 

Intersectionality was actually coined back in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw. A civil rights activist and legal scholar, Crenshaw wrote a paper examining how feminism and anti-racism efforts were excluding Black women, because the issues were treated as mutually exclusive, rather than overlapping. In her own words, “the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism.” 

At Women of Influence, we hosted our own Understanding Intersectionality panel discussion in early 2018, with the goal of not only defining the term for a broader audience, but also of making clear the impact that intersectionality has. For example, reporting on the gender pay gap in Canada typically compares the earnings of men with those of women but fails to include race in the discussion, such as the fact that racialized women earn less than both racialized men and non-racialized women.   

After the events of 2020 — a pandemic that continues to shine a spotlight on the disparities of marginalized groups, and a reckoning on systemic racism — conversations on intersectionality are, or at least should be, moving from understanding to action. Any approach to gender equality must be conscious and inclusive of the overlapping experiences of all those other things that make us who we are, from race, to sexual orientation, to gender identity. In simpler terms: women make up half of the Canadian population, and we need to build programs and solutions that recognize that a group of 19 million individuals aren’t all going to be alike.

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