Tuesday Guest Post: “The Importance of Intersecting Identities”

Every Tuesday we will be featuring a guest post related to abortion support, reproductive justice, and other topics relevant to our mission as an organization dedicated to providing nonjudgmental, compassionate and empowering full-spectrum doula services. If you are interested in writing a post for our Tuesday series, email Kelly N. 

This week’s post addressing the importance of intersectionality for health care providers comes from BADP volunteer Ziska West. Ziska is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA.  She is passionate about making quality, culturally sensitive health care and family planning services-including mental and behavioral health services-available to all women.  As part of her extensive training, she has provided supportive and effective counseling to women, children, and families.  She collaborates with her clients to find what works best for them to make positive changes and cope with challenges in their lives with a focus on research-based cognitive, behavioral, and mindfulness based therapies that work.  With a degree in Women’s Studies and experience in advocacy and community organizing, including time spent as a volunteer crisis counselor for RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), she has a background in working with and advocating for women and their unique needs.  


The Importance of Intersecting Identities

By Ziska West

As healthcare providers, we must consider how the identity and social status of our clients impacts their overall life experiences and, in particular, their access to quality health care. Specifically, women of minority and low socioeconomic status face increased barriers in their access to quality healthcare and other resources which meet their basic needs. First highlighted by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, “intersectionality” examines how various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. For example, a queer woman of color will likely experience higher rates of discrimination and societal prejudice than a white gay man. The further an individual is from the dominant identity (white, male, heterosexual, etc.), the less social power they are likely to have. Additionally, the identity of the provider comes into play when considering how the client-provider dyad will interact and what sociopolitical forces and power dynamics might be at play, whether conscious or not.


Given this, it is important that we consider how our client’s identity may be impacting their healthcare experience and interactions with us. A useful method for addressing this is cross-cultural consultation with other health care professionals who may offer a perspective, or guide your thinking around working with diverse individuals who are different from you in various ways. Perhaps you may want to make it a regular practice to get together with a diverse group of care providers to share your own experiences and perspectives and learn from others’. It can be helpful to ask yourself if you think about cross-cultural differences between yourself and your clients. If not, why? If so, in what ways? How can increased attention to your client’s intersecting identities inform and improve the quality of care you provide? These are the questions that can assist one in striving toward cultural competency, especially in a field that has failed to pay attention to these critical areas in the past.

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