Intersectional Feminism and the liberation of the reproductive rights field

Two hands holding each other with a text saying Intersectional Feminism and Reproductive Rights

Intersectional Feminism – as coined by the American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 (Intersectional Feminism: What It Means and Why It Matters Right Now, 2020) – is born from the need of looking into the roots of inequality, the different experiences of discrimination, and how they overlap.

One of the most common limitations in our approach to social problems is seeing inequalities as unilateral and not interconnected. That leaves many oppressed groups in the margins of analysis, defense, and possible legislation.
Such is the case of the liberation of the reproductive rights field, where the stigma works against certain groups over others according to biased moral standards. This bias endorses the prevailing prejudice towards who and when deserves the reproductive right of abortion.

In this article, we’re introducing Intersectional Feminism and its impact on the liberation of the reproductive rights fields.

What is Intersectional Feminism, and what does it state?

The idea of all inequalities being created in the same way – and disconnected from each other – poses an obstacle to understanding oppressive mechanisms. This happens not only in reproductive issues; racial, gender, caste systems, and poverty discrimination can overlap and generate further endangered groups.
When approximating any of the fights for justice, Intersectional Feminism stands out as a vital resource to understand these groups. In the words of Crenshaw, it’s “a prism for seeing how various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other” (Plett, 2011)

In this sense, the goal of Intersectional Feminism is intercrossing the factors that may imply further discrimination within the specific fight and providing a voice to such groups.
The impact of the different conditions in which women find themselves needing abortion treatments can heavily differ in the oppression they live.
Many tend to understand reproductive rights as a gender-based situation only. That’s where the intersectional point of view comes in to lay off the real deepness of the problem. The reproductive justice movement seeks to portray reproductive oppression as a consequence and weapon of other oppressive expressions.

Overview: Understanding the problem of reproductive rights from an intersectional perspective

The first propositions of Intersectionality were laid before the coining of the term. As a raising of black women in front of the general feminist organization.

The call of these women was to revise the idea of gender oppression as being the worst and only discrimination suffered by women. And visualize the different encounters that white and black women have with sexism.

The idea has been to internalize that, while suffering from several discrimination types, we also may enjoy privileges that may contribute to others’ oppression. Even without wanting to.

When it comes to the liberation of the reproductive rights field, the intersectional approach relies on seeing this issue not as a root problem but as a result and tool. It’s a method for controlling and hindering opportunities for women and their voice in choosing over their bodies (fitting the oppressor’s interests).

The control of reproductive rights would be used by the oppressor agents to reign over women and promote the systematic dominance of patriarchal stereotypes. And even further than that, the deprivation of reproductive rights also perpetuates other marginal conditions like impoverishment and lack of education.

A categorical example of how other kinds of oppression overlap in the problem of reproductive rights is racial and ethnic discrimination. The suppression of votes tailored to disenfranchise people of color in the United States prevents black women from deciding on their reproductive rights.

The outcome is established sectarianism against people of color and the negative impacts historically carried by it (including not only social inequalities but also health and genetic issues).

The systemic construction of the social structure in the United States creates a cycle of oppression. And Intersectional Feminism poses an option for working over reproductive rights as an entry door for deepening into the root issues.

Why is intersectional feminism a critical approach in the matters of reproductive rights?

Understanding the problems of reproductive rights from Intersectionality allowed the movement to determine and analyze the real deepness of the health and reproduction issue.

It was only through this approach that it was possible to englobe different groups suffering from reproductive discrimination while enduring other types of oppression. More importantly, the perspective created through this view gave birth to the modern term: Reproductive Justice.

According to its coiners, twelve black women from the Combahee River Collective (1994), its purpose is to acknowledge the common point in women’s experiences. As well as generate a starting point for further political moves towards the end of women’s oppression.

This term, still under analysis and theoretical framework construction, seeks to give a voice to the different layers of oppressed groups within the field of reproductive rights.

The critical fact here is that there have been actual achievements, like “Building bridges between activists and the academy to stimulate thousands of scholarly articles, generate new women of color organizations, and prompt the reorganization of philanthropic foundations.” (Taylor & Francis, 2018)

From there, we can see that intersectionality -within the frame of the liberation of reproductive rights, is hitting hard in public opinion again.

Not only are activists and regular women understand better their position of privilege and oppression. The weight of the analysis is now better rooted within the systemic tentacles of discrimination.

In that sense, each group can now have a fight that truly represents them and avoid exercising unwilling oppression into other groups.

While this fourth wave of feminism is still about to materialize, there’s a more holistic intention that truly worries about including black and indigenous, trans, and disabled women as the most vulnerable groups. And on the other hand, the fights of more privileged groups may ally with these groups, recognizing their place, visualizing them, and still defending their own causes.

[1] Applying an Intersectional Analysis to Reproductive Justice and Other Forms of Oppression: Collaborating Across Movements and Issues. (2017, February 27). VAWnet.Org.

[2] Intersectional feminism: what it means and why it matters right now. (2020, July 1). UN Women €“ Headquarters.

[3] Plett, K. (2011). Rights Discourse and Social Change: A Comment on Kimberle W. Crenshaw. German Law Journal, 12(1), 285–289.

[4] Taylor & Francis. (2018, January 16). Reproductive Justice as Intersectional Feminist Activism. Taylor & Francis.