When Diversity cuts across traditional groups – and gets complex

To mark the International Youth Day, the European Disability Foundation had interviewed two members of their Youth Committee to share their views on today’s challenges for young people with a disability. Shortly before, the European Commission had published a report on intersectional discrimination – which does not say much about the intersection of disability and youth…

Research confirms what experts suspected: Young disabled people have fewer chances than non-disabled youth to enter and progress within higher education. As a result, access to employment is challenging as well. Their employment rate tends to be much lower and they are over-exposed to unemployment and to exclusion from the labour market being at risk of poverty. Ovidiu Tuduruta, Chair of EDF’s Youth Committee, and Mathieu Chatelin, member of the Committee, talked about current challenges and opportunities on the occasion of International Youth Day (12 August 2016).

Still a lack of consistency

While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is seen a big step forward, Ovidiu Tuduruat, chair of EDF’s Youth Committee, misses a coherent process: “Due to the differences from one state to another in the interpretation of the law, as well as in its implementation, we have achieved far too few results in relation to the intentions and the efforts of the activists and decision makers involved in the creation and implementation of this Convention.” He also criticised the “ultra-bureaucratic administrative system”, which has brought many technical issues. His fellow committee member, Mathieu Chatelin, feels that young persons with disabilities “are deprived of being able to make full use of our EU Citizenship”.

What governments in Europe could and should do

Chatelin requests what might be taken for granted for many: That people with a disability should receive the same support in other EU countries when they are travelling or migrating and concretely “ensure that mobility does not reduce one’s benefits and rights”. Tuduruat agrees that governments might not have to create new regulations but instead “pay increased attention to models of good practice in other countries”.

In 2011, EDF created its Youth Committee in order to mainstream youth in all EDF policies and actions and to raise awareness about the needs of young persons with disabilities in Europe. The members of EDF’s Youth Committee are young people (18 – 35 years old) with different kinds of disabilities coming from different countries in Europe.

A new 2016 EU report about intersectional discrimination

The report called “Intersectional discrimination in EU gender equality and non-discrimination law” recognises that discrimination can occur on the basis of more than one ground. Such multiple or intersectional discrimination can create cumulative disadvantage. This can be experienced by gay or lesbian members of ethnic minorities, disabled black people, younger ethnic minority members or older disabled people. The report mentions that ethnic minority women, older women, black women and disabled women are among the most disadvantaged groups in many EU countries.

The report tackles on tricky aspect of intersectional discrimination: Taken alone, either ground might not seem to be discriminatory: because white women are not treated less favourably than men, there will not appear to be sex discrimination, and because black men are not treated less favourably than whites, there will not seem to be race discrimination. Intersectional discrimination is also difficult to monitor since many national statistics do not include data disaggregated by both sex and race and even less by other grounds.

The challenges of focused categories

What Diversity practitioners have experienced over many years, the report also highlights as an issue: That the focus on individual dimensions bears a number of issues: “Firstly, focussing on single grounds at a time ignores the fact that everyone has an age, a gender, a sexual orientation, a belief system and an ethnicity; many may have or acquire a religion or a disability as well. Secondly, it assumes that everyone within an identity group is the same, obscuring real differences within groups. Thirdly, it ignores the role of power in structuring relationships between people. Discrimination is not symmetrical; it operates to create or entrench domination by some over others.” The new report draws on more recent insights, or ‘structural intersectionality,’ to argue that discrimination law should focus on relationships of power in order to determine who to protect and how.

To absorb an intersectional analysis into anti-discrimination law also requires us to move beyond a conception of equality which is based solely on the principle that likes should be treated alike. In the context of intersectionality, treating likes alike is particularly constraining because it requires us to make a comparison between two individuals who are similarly situated except for the difference in protected characteristics such as race.

The political framework and agenda – or absence thereof

Chapter 4 of the report analyses the ways in which European states deal with multiple discrimination and intersectionality. It draws on responses by national experts from all the EU member States as well as the candidate countries. About 13 of the States surveyed make explicit mention of multiple discrimination in their legislation. There is no explicit mention in the legislation of 20 of the States covered. However, this does not preclude claims under multiple grounds in at least eight States.

Quite some attention has been given to multiple discrimination by equality bodies, or their equivalent in the States covered in the report. This is particularly important in relation to the research and information being disseminated by these bodies. However, intersectionality does not seem to be placed high upon the political agenda. Although the Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015 includes a definition of multiple discrimination, it does not make any further mention of the principle. The recently released strategy (the Commission Staff Working Document on Strategic Engagement For Gender Equality for 2016-2019) makes a commitment to pay particular attention to groups facing multiple disadvantage, but there is almost no further reference to these issues in the document itself. The same is true for the List of Actions by the Commission to advance LGBTI Equality 2016 – 2019, which makes no mention at all of multiple discrimination. Intersectionality is not mentioned in any of these three documents, according to the latest EU report.