Intersectionality and the United Nations World Conference Against Racism


  • Abigail Bakan OISE, University of Toronto
  • Yasmeen Abu-Laban University of Alberta


Intersectionality, United Nationn, Racism and Anti-racism


This article analyzes the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa. Utilizing original interviews with civil society delegates in the United States and Canada, along with government documents and media and academic accounts, we challenge prevailing interpretations of the WCAR to show that it was an important space for expressions of an explicit feminist intersectionality approach, especially the intersection of racism with gender. Our findings demonstrate how intersectionality was relevant to the discussions of both state and civil society delegates and served to highlight racialized, gendered, and other discriminatory patterns. Based on this evidence, we argue that the WCAR process played a significant role in advancing a global conversation about intersectionality and therefore carried significant potential for advancing an anti-racist agenda for the twenty-first century. That this is not widely understood or highlighted has to do with challenges to the WCAR, particularly the withdrawal of key states from the process and a negative discourse concerning discussions and scholarly analysis of the WCAR process. We suggest that acknowledging the presence of intersectionality in the WCAR process gestures towards a more accurate historical record. It also suggests both the opportunities and constraints afforded by intersectional analysis in moments of transition and mainstreaming. As such, the “Durban moment,” and the WCAR more broadly, are highly relevant for the study of women, politics, and human rights over the first decade of the twenty-first century.


Cet article analyse la Conférence mondiale contre le racisme (CMCR) de 2001 qui s’est tenue à Durban, en Afrique du Sud. À l’aide d’entretiens originaux avec des délégués de la société civile aux États-Unis et au Canada, ainsi que de documents gouvernementaux et de rapports médiatiques et universitaires, nous contestons les interprétations dominantes de la CMCR pour montrer qu’elle a été une plate-forme importante pour les expressions d’une approche féministe intersectionnelle explicite, en particulier l’intersection entre la race et le genre. Nos résultats démontrent comment l’intersectionnalité était pertinente aux discussions des délégués des gouvernements et de la société civile et a permis de mettre en évidence des schémas racialisés, axés sur le genre et autres schémas discriminatoires. Sur la base de ces preuves, nous soutenons que le processus de la CMCR a joué un rôle important pour faire progresser la conversation mondiale sur l’intersectionnalité et a donc eu un potentiel important pour faire progresser la cause antiraciste au 21e siècle. Le fait que cela ne soit pas largement compris ou mis en évidence est dû aux contestations de la CMCR, en particulier au retrait d’états clés du processus et à un discours négatif concernant les discussions et l’analyse scientifique du processus de la CMCR. Nous suggérons que le fait de reconnaître la présence de l’intersectionnalité dans le processus de la CMCR va en direction d’un compte-rendu historique plus correct. Cela évoque également à la fois les possibilités fournies et les contraintes imposées par l’analyse intersectionnelle dans les périodes de transition et d’intégration. En tant que tel, le « moment Durban », et la CMCR de manière plus générale, sont très pertinents aux études sur les femmes, les politiques et les droits de la personne au cours de la première décennie du 21e siècle.


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Author Biographies

Abigail Bakan, OISE, University of Toronto

Professor of Political Science and Chair, Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice Education (HSSSJE)

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Yasmeen Abu-Laban, University of Alberta


Department of Political Science, University of Alberta,

Edmonton, Alberta


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