The Need for Intersectionality and an Ecological Perspective in Investigating Violence against Women
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a basis for gender discrimination and oppression globally. To address VAWG effectively it is essential to understand the different risks faced by women and girls across societies. “Intersectionality” refers to the complex processes by which the positions of race, class, gender, and sexuality of individuals affect people’s overall social status and experience. These intersecting levels of oppressions create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination. For example, early work investigating the effects of intersectionality on black and ethnic minority women in the US demonstrated that intersections of ethnicity, class, and gender (e.g. lower socio-economic status, increased child-care responsibilities, less housing support, fewer opportunities for education and employment) led to heightened vulnerability and difficulty in seeking support for domestic violence or other abuse (Crenshaw, 1991).
The multiplicative effects of intersecting factors are often overlooked by researchers (Rogers & Kelly, 2011); but an appreciation of intersectionality is needed to acknowledge overlapping and mutually constructed systems of discrimination and oppression that lead to non-inclusive policies and practices putting certain individuals and groups at a disadvantage (UN Women, 2019). In relation to VAWG this means an acknowledgement of the intersections between the structural (e.g. social, economic, and political systems), institutional (e.g. formal and informal social and professional networks), interpersonal (e.g. personal, family, and community relationships) and individual (e.g. personality, psychological state, personal attitudes towards violence) factors which intersect to amplify the risks faced by differently situated women and girls (UN, 2012).
A prominent example of how to consider intersectionality in research and policy-making can be seen in the approach taken by The World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO uses an ecological framework to describe violence as a global public health issue (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi, & Lozano, 2002; WHO, 2012, 2013). An ecological framework is multicausal, which means it considers many different factors that may contribute to VAWG (See Figure 1). An ecological framework involves an investigation of VAWG in the context of structural factors, such as gender-roles and social institutions, as well as physical, social, and interpersonal environments, and individual characteristics. Such a framework is useful to achieve a broader perspective on the issue of VAWG, as it also provides opportunities to consider practical options to address risk factors, and develop effective and targeted initiatives to prevent and respond to VAWG in different settings and circumstances.
Using an ecological framework can help us to better understand different intersecting oppressions, such as individual or interpersonal conflicts within intimate and non-intimate relationships, cultural norms or traditions that support VAWG, different levels of institutionalised gender inequality across societies, and how they compound the risk of violence against women and girls. Further, an ecological framework is able to acknowledge and validate the unique experiences of differently situated women, and help in the development of effective and targeted interventions and services. Researchers investigating VAWG should aim to do so within an ecological framework using an intersectional perspective to allow for an appreciation of the different and overlapping forms of oppressions faced by women and girls across societies. Amna Salman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Forensic Doctorate Trainee at the University of Birmingham, supervised by Dr Melissa Colloff. Her doctoral research examines honour-based violence (HBV) against women and girls within an ecological framework, investigating the intersecting factors that may contribute to HBV in different societies.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039
Krug, E. G., Dahlberg, L. L., Mercy, J. A., Zwi, A. B., & Lozano, R. (Eds.). (2002). The World Report on Violence and Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11133-0
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United Nations General Assembly. (2012). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/A.HRC.20.16_En.pdf
United Nations Women Europe and Central Asia. (2019). The Value of Intersectionality in Understanding Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) July 2019. Retrieved from https://eca.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/10/the-value-of-intersectionality-in-understanding-violence-against-women-and-girls#view
World Health Organization (WHO) (2012) Understanding and addressing violence against women: femicide. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf
World Health Organization (WHO) (2013). Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women: WHO clinical and policy guidelines. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85240/1/9789241548595_eng.pdf