Roundtable 17: Intersectionality


Intersectional frameworks based in social justice aim to understand the many circumstances that, combined with discriminatory social practices, produce and sustain inequality and exclusion. An intersectional framework can help cities understand and come up with policies, programmes, budgets, funding, staffing and governance systems that reflect, engage, and address the multidimensional lives of their citizens. Intersectional frameworks rely on disaggregated data that capture concepts of gender, race, culture, income, ability, age, refugee or immigrant status, sexual orientation etc.

Using a gendered intersectional approach helps to address systemic barriers and power structures, ensuring the city is not perpetuating inequity, but actively participating in building inclusive and women-friendly plans, policies, and spaces that work for everyone.

  • Through this discussion we want to share our understanding of gendered intersectionality, why it is important, giving examples of how we have applied it in our own organizations and work, and sharing lessons learned.
  • How can our experiences be applied to the city overall?
  • How can a gendered intersectional framework be applied to a housing strategy, safety, and emergency preparedness?

Roundtable Discussion

This roundtable included 12 participants from private sector firms, advocacy groups, not-for-profit service organizations, and city departments. Joint table leads were Tasha Henderson and Joy Masuhara; Christine O’Fallon facilitated, and Leslie Shieh recorded.
Participants discussed the meaning of intersectionality and the importance of recognising its roots in social justice, Black feminism, and the work of Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw.

The table noted that intersectionality does not simply refer to a gendered lens; a key aspect of intersectionality is to question how a broad range of identities (including gender identity, economic class, education, sexual orientation, race, age, citizenship, religion, marital status, birthright, employment, anatomy, disability, social institution) impact lived experiences. With gender as an example, the group agreed that women are not a homogenous group. Often when people discuss the category of ‘women’ what is really meant is white women, which is exclusionary and therefore unacceptable.

The table used colour mixing as a metaphor. One of the participants brought play dough to illustrate how an intersectional lens changes things: Racism is blue. Sexism is yellow. Women of colour do not just experience blue and yellow. They actually experience green, which is different from the ways that say, white women experience sexism as simply yellow. The intersection of identities produces a different experience for that individual, not just the ‘sum of the parts’.

An intersectional lens changes how we approach public policy. The current system is inherently inequitable, and needs to be dismantled and transformed at its roots to see and repair where power collides. Policies and programs impact community members differently; an intersectional framework can help identify those differences, with the aim to strive for equity, and ultimately equality. Participants stressed that regardless of who’s at the table, we can never know the experience of every single person; it is the task of intersectionality to include as many voices as possible, and to create flexibility in governance to accommodate all voices.

Definition of intersectionality: A dynamic and contextual analytical framework and practice rooted in social justice and Black and Indigenous feminism, to identify how interlocking systems of power collide to impact people disproportionately as a result of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

Roundtable 17

Key Findings

  • Take action!
  • Shift from binary.
  • Try not to lose gender in the discussion.
  • Remember it’s not possible to include everyone, but keep trying.
  • Go to the community, not the other way around.
  • Take ongoing and new reconciliatory actions!
  • Watch our language; language matters!
  • Recognize oppression over time (not always celebratory).
  • Intersectionality is rooted in social justice.
  • Where and when of people’s lived experience; rural vs urban; queer person in the 1950s carries that lived experience that will impact them for their whole life.
  • Intersectionality is a lens, tool, theory, practice; it’s always changing, emergent, dynamic.
  • Pay attention to more subtle micro-aggressions that happen everyday.


  • Overarching: apply a gendered intersectionality framework to all city policies, programs, budgets, funding, staffing, and governance, and embed intersectionality completely in the city plan.
  • Education: facilitate ongoing professional development on intersectionality by allowing City staff to use paid time to attend community-based workshops/educational events.
  • Measurement and evaluation: define successful outcomes at the onset and in ongoing and sufficiently resourced collaborations with relevant community members.
  • Audit/resource distribution: fully fund the application of a gendered-intersectional audit on city resources including the redistribution of financial and staffing resources to reflect the resulting recommendations. Integrate intersectional knowledge and professional development into staff job descriptions and performance reviews.
  • Specific issue: create a designated staff liaison position to assist community-based organizations in the development application process; commit to expediting the development application processes for community-serving agencies (development specific timeframe, e.g. within 60 days).
  • Specific issue: create emergency shelters for non-binary and trans people. Resources for a nonbinary shelter, created together with community to know how shelter should be run and managed.

Related Initiatives

Women Transforming Cities examines systemic barriers to women’s participation in local government. In 2014, they launched the Hot Pink Paper Campaign, partnering with organizations servicing women to develop policy recommendations. In 2018, they had 11 topics, 33 recommendations for Mayor & Council.

Qmunity offers a space for all LGBTQ/2S individuals to develop meaningful connections.

In 2018, the Women’s Equity Strategy replaced the City of Vancouver’s 2005 Equality Plan, which did not adequately address women occupying marginal spaces. The new Strategy identifies the need to use intersectional frameworks; this step is in development at the City. Phase 1 priorities in the Strategy focus on addressing women’s safety, accessible quality childcare, adequate housing, and women’s leadership and representation within the City’s workforce.

Abundant Housing is a pro-housing group that supports more homes of all types in Metro Vancouver.

MODUS recently worked with the City of Surrey to update the City’s Parks, Recreation & Culture Strategic Plan. They tailored a community engagement process to include more diverse voices, especially those who were traditionally underrepresented. Involving more people and exploring community priorities based on age, gender, and language, led to a more inclusive plan that focused on accessibility, affordability, reconciliation, and intercultural understanding and appreciation, rather than simply City facilities and infrastructure.

The Front Step (Mt. Pleasant Neighbourhood House) is an initiative engaging youth in and from care and older adults to co-design projects that address their needs. They have two frameworks: Chaordic stepping stone (ordered chaos) and CYNEFRIN: break down system into: complex, complicated, simple, and chaotic (e.g. need to find an expert). The project now has three rings: Youth & Seniors (centre ring), support & service providers (second ring), community (third ring).

Access Recreation Culture Program engages Indigenous youth aged 14 to 19 who have an interest in criminal justice. The program has an intersectional lens of: gender, race, parenting, culture. They go on field trips to police stations and tactical training centres and includes drumming and cedar weaving with elders.

Indigenous Cadet Program provides coaching, help getting a driver’s license etc. It provides a gateway to get youth into a position where they can apply to police departments or the RCMP.

Women’s Friendly City Challenge (WTC) launched at the World Urban Forum 2018, is a call for action to encourage cities around the world to become more women friendly and shares Wise Practices from all over the world. It looks at different categories: safety, economics, governance, housing, etc. and has applied an intersectionality lens to international agreements, and found for example sexual orientation is not included in many documents.

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