5 steps to equitable security using an intersectional approach

Multi-gender and racial group of learners at a security training

by Kelsey Hoppe, Safer Edge CEO

The goal of security provision – whether by a government or organisation – is equitable security. Equitable security is built on an intersectional approach and cannot be understood without it. To understand what an intersectional approach to security looks like we need to understand how our current security systems are built and how an intersectional approach is different.

Today, almost all security provision focuses on equality. Equality means that individuals are provided with the same security resources, training and opportunities. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and the allocation of security resources, training and opportunities will need to be allocated differently to reach an equal outcome. “Threats aren’t respecters of persons,” we hear. To counter those threats, the organisation takes a reductionist approach to individuals. With equal security provision as our goal, we treat every person the same no matter their individual characteristics. This type of security works well if organisations are providing security for a homogenous group or ones with strong hierarchies – like the military or police. In such organisations, personal characteristics, thoughts, actions, activity can be assumed and focus placed on the external environment in which the group is operating.

This approach situates location at the centre of security assessment. It is why we hear places referred to as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. London is ‘safe’ and Baghdad is ‘unsafe’. We don’t need to ask the question, ‘safe for who? When? Or why? Because all people are treated equal in the environment and the variable is the number or intensity of the threat face.

"Equal security provision works well for organisations that are homogenous or have strong hierarchies. It allows them to focus almost entirely on location-based threats. "

European security risk manager standing on map of Europe with raised hand

However, most humanitarian, development and even corporate organisations are not structured like the military and are not providing security for a homogenous group. Humanitarian and development organisations are diverse in thought, action, experience and mission and within those organisations their personnel are even more diverse. Human diversity cannot be reduced to a single dimension and our safety cannot be defined by a one-dimensional view of the space we occupy. Threats to our safety come from multiple manifestations of who we are - as well as where we are - and these need to be addressed with an intersectional approach to security.

Intersectionality is a term first used by feminist and civil rights activist, Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how race affected women’s experiences of systems and structure differently. It has developed into a term used to describe the interconnected nature of a person’s race, class, gender, ethnicity, age and other characteristics. All our characteristics translate into experiences of privilege or marginalisation that affect everything including how we experience fundamental human rights, access to basic services, educational opportunities and safety and security. Taking an intersectional approach to security means that our safety cannot be understood apart from ourselves - our characteristics, behaviours, capabilities and experiences.