The Many Faces of Inequality
Rana Zincir Celal explains in the interview, why working at the intersection of multiple layers of discrimination is required to achieve social justice – and why everyone will benefit from this approach.
Rana Zincir Celal has worked in philanthropy, social impact investment, and academia for more than 20 years advancing social justice and equality. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute. Rana coordinates the Foundation’s support program “Reducing Inequalities Through Intersectional Practice” which she co-created with the Robert Bosch Stiftung in 2020. In the interview, she talks about her perspectives on inequality, intersectionality, the program’s rationale, and the selection process of the supported projects.
Inequality is part of our lives in various forms and in distinctive ways. Why is inequality a problem that requires more attention?
If we have learned anything in the past year, it is the need to take a serious and comprehensive approach to tackling inequalities. A very recent example: I just came across a new study out of Northwestern University, involving a collaboration with a scholar from Freie Universität Berlin, which identified the best predictor of Covid death rates. It compared different countries and regions and all kinds of possible variables. Of these, the number one predictor was the country’s level of pre-Covid income inequality.
How surprised were you to come across this result?
These sorts of findings only confirm what the vast majority of people all around the world already experience and know on a daily basis about the devastating impacts of inequality. What has become increasingly evident in the past year is the extent to which inequality creates fragility across our system; however, we have yet to see concerted action from decision-makers to tackle inequality.
Is the political will missing?
The kinds of policies and measures that are required to ensure more equitable outcomes, like universal basic services, are significant investments. Governments and leaders with long-term perspectives, and who are committed to upholding the SDGs, should be able to see the benefits from reducing inequalities. As Oxfam cited in its latest report, the World Bank has found that acting now to reduce inequality will mean that poverty could return to pre-crisis levels in just three years, instead of over a decade. But politics is often based on short-term calculations and narrow interests, which is complicated even further that we now live in a world polarized between very competing views of the role of the state, of power and many other notions that are undermining progress towards equality and justice.
The world is upside down and looks distorted? This map is based on the Hobo-Dyer Projection, which presents countries in their true proportion to one another, places the Global South at the top and is Pacific-centered – an invitation to change the perspective on the world. In the highlighted regions, the Foundation supports projects that want to reduce inequality with an intersectional approach.
In its support program “Reducing Inequalities Through Intersectional Practice” the Robert Bosch Stiftung decided to pursue an intersectional approach in reducing inequalities. Can you tell us why this approach is so promising?
To quote from Emilia Roig from the Center for Intersectional Justice, intersectionality allows us to see “the inequality within inequality, the discrimination within discrimination, the minority within the minority”. Intersectionality recognizes that there is a truly unique experience of exclusion and disadvantage based on how multiple social identities and locations come together. In doing so, intersectionality also engages with questions of power and structure: the layers of discrimination people experience reveal how systems of oppression – patriarchy, racism, class, caste, capitalism etc. – combine and interact with each other, allowing us to understand the impact those have on people being able to live lives of dignity. This includes privileged people, who often do not realize their privilege or are very comfortable in their privilege and not willing to share power.
In your experience, what would motivate people to adopt such changes?
There is a need to build greater understanding of intersectionality and to provide practical tools that can be applied – whether to design policy or to reshape internal organizational practices. It is also important to keep in mind that intersectionality is not only about analysis, but also about action. It is about building and promoting solidarity. For the system to change, you need to build, influence and challenge power in order to dismantle entrenched norms, values and practices. Social movements have existed for a long time, and have been instrumental in advancing human rights, but for the most part, they have not been intersectional. To go further, we need broader coalitions that recognize and center the experience of the most marginalized.
Eleven projects have been selected for a joint learning journey. What kind of organizations are involved here and what are they focusing on?
The foundation is interested in learning from and with organizations that are practicing intersectionality, and has been quite intentional in trying to understand the breadth and scope of how intersectionality is being applied in different contexts and in varied ways. The projects are from all around the world and are working on different levels – from the grassroots to transnational, from policy analysis to cross-movement building. In terms of themes, several projects center the priorities of migrant women; a number of the projects are poised to influence policy through new frameworks and modes of engagement; there is a cluster around addressing discrimination and violence being brought about by technology, as well as on climate justice.
Could you share with us some insights into the application process?
The response to the call for applications was staggering – the foundation received over 500 applications, from all over the world, from all kinds of organizations and taking up many different dimensions of inequality. For me, this showed enormous and untapped potential in utilizing intersectional approaches to reduce inequalities. Most striking for me though was the feedback that was provided alongside the applications: more than half of all the applicants gave us meaningful and significant feedback. These were predominantly expressions of appreciation for the foundation’s decision to support intersectional work. Many also explained why this was important to the issues and communities they work in. This forceful and widespread demand for intersectional approaches is a message that other foundations need to take home as well.