Samia Mirza, We-Collab
December 11, 2017
Modern medicine, public health, and now public policy all have evolved (and are evolving) to address not just one particular aspect of an individual, but the entire person or whole person. There are many terms used to describe this dynamic in which people face multiple forms of adversity simultaneously — intersectionality, double jeopardy, or compounded impact. The definitions vary, but the essence is the same. Communities and families do not pick the struggle of the month to focus on, instead they are forced to navigate a multitude of dynamics at the same time.
For the purposes of this blog we will use the term “intersectionality.” Intersectionality takes into consideration the full range of what families go through every day. As advocates, we have to be laser focused on our desired outcomes while recognizing the context of intersectionality in all of our efforts. The way that we strike a balance between being focused and fully aware has all to do with how we engage and communicate with people. This translates not only into understanding at an individual level but also at an institutional level.
There are many areas of an individual’s life that we are trying to improve through policy and systems change, yet in the interim there are other factors (related or unrelated to the policy topic) in their life that work against them daily. For example, in the case of walking, bicycling, rolling, and taking public transit, there are opposing factors working against active living. Either the safe paths are weak or non-existent, or there is a perceived or actual risk for safety. Intersectionality recognizes that while we can create policies to address the above, we also have to consider the rest of the story. We need caring adults, who after working a ten-hour shift, will still take their kids to the park (or help advocate for the park). We need messages and marketing that directly speaks to this audience so that safe play for their children becomes a priority amongst other concerns. Another dimension that should be considered is that some communities see improved roads and bike lanes as a sign of displacement or gentrification. We should press forward in our efforts, but also find allies who will train small businesses to participate in the process of neighborhood changes rather than reacting to them. The complexities related to this example are endless, illustrating that there are always other factors at play.
Understanding and embracing this context will make our campaigns stronger and result in better outcomes. While we may not always get it right, we can’t ignore the multifaceted experiences of those we hope to impact. Issues don’t occur in silos, and solutions shouldn’t either.