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What is intersectionality and how should NGOs operating in geographical contexts like South Caucasus

Alain Navarra (Hyestart), Gay Pride, Lugano, June 2018

Discussion following the screening of the film Ariana (on intersexuality).

30 May. Lugano Pride 2018.

In cooperation with the Lugano film festival

The question I had to answer was the following: what is intersectionality and how should NGOs operating in geographical contexts like South Caucasus use this concept?

Seeking social justice for LGBTI people is not a simply matter of improving things for the immensely diverse group of individuals who identify with that label. Rather, it is a matter of allowing the establishment of institutions that are more just for everyone, that eschew all types of discrimination, invite engagement and opportunities for everyone. Inclusion of minorities is vital to sustainable democracy.

Substantial evidence points to the exclusion of marginalised and minority groups from political and social decision-making as a key factor in both political and civil conflicts and instability which in turn affects democratic transition or consolidation.

The empirical research and the activist symbiosis presuppose a kind of bending and blending of different positions and perspectives which constitute a part of our belief that the LGBTI movements are an agent of progressive social change.

A language that uncovers facets of multiple oppressions and voices the fear and frustration that accompany exclusionary practices is unfortunately not looked for. It is in addition important to acknowledge about intersecting discriminations and asymmetrical power distributions that shape gender expressions and sexual identifications.

To maintain the claim to the universality of human rights, we need to systematically pay attention to sociological background and political conditions that will determine the meaning a right has in a given context.

Very broad social movements of emancipation for women, various minorities, etc. could have their vision blinkered by the promise of recognition in the vocabulary and institutional apparatus of human rights. But in fact they will be led away from the economy and toward the state, away from political, social conditions and toward the forms of legal recognition.

It is therefore important to associate social and cultural aspects of sexuality, sexual behaviours or gender stereotypes with human rights. These factors, along with high levels of homophobia, should lead NGOs to become more involved with non-normative groups and especially the intersections of their multiple positionalities.

Using an intersectional methodological approach means to analyse the differential ways in which different social divisions are concretely enmeshed and constructed by each other and how they relate to political and subjective construction of identities.

At the intersection of culture, law, public attitudes, public policy, development and democracy are a number of dynamics which have serious consequences for LGBTI people, but also for minorities of various sort.

The different levels in which social divisions operate in the communities and where they work should therefore be carefully separated and examined separately: institutionally, intersubjectively, representationally, as well as in the subjective constructions of identities. The boundaries of the dialogue that one wants to establish is determined by common social or civic emancipatory goals while the tactical and strategic priorities are led by those whose needs are judged by the participants of the dialogue to be the most important.

This kind of approach could be termed also as transversal rather than specifically intersectional. Intersectionality should not be used as a counter to identity politics that emphasize as well homogenize and reify unidimensional versions of identities.

The varying ways a country’s context might foster or deter the translation of LGBTI acceptance into greater policy inclusion should always be considered. A number of studies have examined whether the existence of acceptance of LGBTI people and legal inclusion of sexual minorities is in some way to a monist or dualist legal system, or to other potential correlates of inclusive social and legal environment. Democratic institutions are designed to mediate the relationship between public opinion and public policy. This is inherent to pluralistic ideas of representative government.

Using intersectionality analysis in seeking to identify the notion of intersecting systems of power in the south Caucasus area, one should seek to develop possible ways, including culture, in which politics can seek economic, social and legal equity without leaving the current relationship of power in place but not unintentionally creating new ones.

A transversal approach of actions means to situate intersectionality analysis in all its facets: geographical, social and temporal locations of the particular individual or collective social actors examined by it.

Even more than any many other central concepts in the social sciences, the definition and meaning of term « culture » has been contested, but in fact what is culture?

a) general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development: culture as civilisation

b) works and practices of intellectual and aesthetic activity: high culture

c) particular way of life, whether of people or a group: the values the members of a given group hold, the norms they follow and the material goods they create.

But there is a close relationship between power relations and cultural practice. Cultures are not just an arbitrary collection of values, artefacts and modes of behaviour, they acquire stabilizing properties which are inherent in the practices of their social reproductions.

Cultural models become the ways individuals experience themselves, their collectivities and the world. Culture is a rich resource used by different social agents in various social projects within specific power relations and political discourse in and out the collectivity. And here again intersectionality is a significant methodological tool in analysing the meaning of culture.

The aim of this, for NGOs operating in areas like the South Caucasus, is to gain better understanding of the areas in which they operate and the issues they are working on.

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