International Women’s Day 2019: Let’s Talk About Intersectionality

This year, on International Women’s Day, we have got to talk about intersectionality – in deep and meaningful ways that shift conversations and engage critical thinking. As educators, we have the incredible privilege and responsibility of guiding conversations that expand minds and ultimately move social change.

Intersectional feminism is by no means new. Indeed, it was coined back in 1989 by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the lived experience of being female and Black. According to Crenshaw, traditional feminist and antiracist policies fall short for individuals experiencing intersecting oppressions. For Crenshaw, her experience as a woman cannot be separated from her experience as a Black person.

It’s not difficult to understand the ways in which traditional feminism has failed women of colour, women with disabilities, or trans women, for example. A very quick Google search of history + feminism delivers photo after photo of women who pretty much look exactly the same (i.e. are white, middle-upper class, and follow prescribed gender norms). When these images become the prototype, critical thinking can turn off. We passively talk about women’s right to vote without adequately acknowledging that the suffrage movement betrayed Black women and that Indigenous women in Canada, for example, got the right to vote 53 years after the first white woman.  We do these movements a complete disservice when we gloss over these very real truths. Not only that, but we perpetuate the ongoing oppression of those who continue to fight for the human rights of women with diverse lived experiences.

Discussions around intersectionality have been given larger platforms in recent years, particularly as the Women’s March on Washington took off in 2017. Understanding intersectionality means the recognition that women with disabilities, for example, are 25 percent more likely to live in poverty than men with disabilities (who, unsurprisingly, are more likely than able-bodied men to live in poverty). It is the understanding that for women of colour in Canada, there is a pay gap within the pay gap. Gender-based violence, which was at the forefront of Dr. Crenshaw’s development of intersectional analysis, is still an epidemic in Canada, with half of all women having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence after the age of 16. When these numbers are compounded by systemic racism (intersectionality), we are faced with the grim reality that upwards of 4,000 Indigenous women have been murdered or are missing in this country.

This International Women’s Day, we implore you to have deep, courageous conversations about the history and future of the women’s movement. Read about diverse women who have been fighting for their rights for decades – often without the recognition awarded to those who more neatly fit within the historically rigid definition of “feminist.” Have women across history helped move women’s rights forward? Sure. Have they experienced (sometimes self-imposed) blind spots? Absolutely. It’s time to push ourselves – and our students – to acknowledge history’s shortcomings and to explore intersectionality. It’s time to actively seek out the bold voices that are shaping the women’s movement into a space of authentic inclusion.

Lesson Plan (60 minutes +):
Note that this plan has been developed with Grade 9 students in mind; that said, it can be modified for your classroom needs.

1. Start the class with an open discussion on International Women’s Day. What do your students already know about the day? What are their impressions of IWD? This can be a brief discussion that helps gauge initial understanding. 5 minutes.

2. Print off or project 4-5 images of the women’s movement throughout history. We strongly encourage including images from the Canadian context in order to help students identify the ways in which women’s rights and intersectionality are reflected in their communities. Try to find images that are prototypical. See this website for a few gems. Others can be found

Ask students to reflect on what they see. What are commonalities? Whose voices are present, and whose are excluded? 5-minutes.

3. Ask if anyone has ever heard of the word Some may have, but the room may very well be silent. Not to worry! We’ve got you covered with this video from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

After watching the video, check for understanding. 5 minutes.

4. Having reviewed historical photos of Canadian feminism, and having discovered a bit about intersectionality, ask students to consider how intersectionality applies to IWD. What is missing when we view the day through a one-dimensional lens? As a class, focus on two well-known women (examples include Malala Yousafzai or Michelle Obama). How do the intersections of their identities inform their experiences as women? And why do their voices – as intersectional women – matter? For a visual of what this might look like, click here10 minutes

5. Give students a chance to explore diverse individuals who have made significant (and very awesome) contributions to women’s rights across the globe. What about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan woman who spend her life planting trees and leading democracy? What about Sylvia Rivera, a queer Latinx activist who spent her life advocating for trans rights? Or how about Mia Ives-Rublee, disability rights activist? It can be safely assumed that the vast majority of students will not have heard about these activists – women from a range of backgrounds who have spent their entire lives advocating for the full recognition of diverse lived experiences. Looking for more inspiration? Check out Virgie Tovar and Edna Chavez and Winona LaDuke. Select women whose struggles are current, thereby ensuring that IWD isn’t viewed as an issue left in history. If you’re looking for someone your students might know, start with Serena Williams – perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time who still faces both sexism and racism as an athlete.

Allow students to select an individual they’d like to learn more about. If they have someone else in mind, let them run with it. Feel free to give them sites to read or else allow them to explore on their own. Print a photo of the individual on a piece of A3 paper along with the diagram included in this blog (of concentric circles). In small groups, students can complete the diagrams as well as discuss the following questions:

• Who is ___________________?
• What are/were her intersecting identities? How did they inform her worldview?
• What was the impact that she has made on the world?
• What voices does she help amplify? Why does this matter?

Print a photo of the individual on a piece of A3 paper along with the diagram included in this blog (of concentric circles). Want an idea of what this might look like? Check out our example here.

Posters can be displayed around the room, with 10 minutes at the end of class for a gallery walk.
35 minutes.

6. End the class by giving each student a post-it. On the front board, hang a piece of chart paper where students can post questions and “wonders” about these women or about IWD in general. By asking them to post a “wonder,” it keeps the inquiry process moving and encourages students to continue thinking critically about the intersecting movements that make up International Women’s Day. Feel free to start classes with a brief 5-minute discussion on any one of the “wonders” so that students continue coming back to the lesson and the key takeaways.