The work of inclusivity requires us to look at ourselves, even when that may make us uncomfortable. Some of what is covered in these posts may seem basic to you and other ideas may be more than what your agency can take on at this time.
The most important thing is that we are aware of the work that we all have to do.
This is not an exercise with a finite number of tick boxes that, once checked off, tell us we have done everything we need to do; rather, it is a process or a journey that each of us will be on for our entire life.
Let’s start by looking at the relevant concepts.
Intersectionality describes the complex reality of being human. Each of us is shaped by multiple social or cultural identities that affect how we understand ourselves, the barriers and opportunities we have had presented to us, our abilities to respond to those barriers and opportunities and the way other people respond to us.
If a client is to be understood she has to be seen as the intersection of all of these elements, not as each of them separately. Each woman is a bundle of intersections, of privilege and marginalization, and we have to understand them in that complexity if we are to provide them with the services they need and deserve.
Accessibility refers to what we do, usually at the organizational level, to make our services work as well as possible for people with a wide variety of needs. Our building, for instance, may be “wheelchair accessible.” We may provide ASL interpretation so our services are accessible to women who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Perhaps we run programs for women of different cultural or religious backgrounds or offer food to accommodate women and children with special dietary needs.
Inclusivity takes accessibility several steps farther. It goes beyond having a ramp to enable women in wheelchairs to get into our building to creating a space that is welcoming to all, where staff and volunteers have received training and support to understand the histories and issues of specific populations of women, where women who do need assistance for our services to be accessible to them don’t feel like outsiders for whom favours are being done.
It can take a long time to get to inclusivity. Most women’s agencies have worked hard to be accessible, especially given the very limited funding we all operate with. But most of us have work to do to create spaces that are fully inclusive.
You and your co-workers might want to start thinking about inclusivity by asking (and trying to answer) these four questions:
- What group(s) are you not reaching in the work you do?
- Why do you think that is?
- Why is it important to include this group(s) in the work you do?
- How might your work/organization change if you were to include these groups?
You can use your answers to these questions to help you think about what steps you would need to take to make your agency more inclusive by bringing these groups into your work.