Woman walking in her field in Rajasthan, India. Photo: BBH Singapore / Unsplash.

Drivers that impede and constrain sustainability and equity are inter-connected and intertwined. In order to support better living conditions of the poor and vulnerable groups around the world, sustainability and equity must be addressed in a joint manner, while recognizing the power dynamics that create and sustain conditions of poverty and environmental degradation.

People’s identities and social standings usually mark and layer unequal relations and forms of disadvantage (or privilege) in environmentally stressed contexts. In recent years, there have been calls by the sustainability research community to more systematically explore the links between gender, social equity and justice, power and sustainability. This call for linkages is expressed by recent studies that fundamentally underscore that inequity and unsustainability are produced by dynamics of coupled social-ecological systems that build on power dynamics.

From the early 1990s, the rich feminist literature on intersectionality has drawn our attention to the interlocking and multiple forms of inequities and discriminations experienced by women and men based on their class, race, ethnicity, age, ability, sexuality and other identities. For instance, exclusions of some women are attributed to their multiple identities being poor, rural, uneducated and ethnic minority, as well as being women. While their combined identities appear to marginalize them, attention must be directed however to the dynamic workings of power within institutional, cultural and political economic structures. These workings of power vest people with their identities through discursive means, but which also have material and real-world implications leading to exclusions and marginalization.

In short, intersectional feminist research positions power front and center of the analysis and in this proposed research: what is it about societies, economies, political systems and institutions that create fully or partially excluded groups, what forces maintain them, and what can we do to recognize, examine, problematize, and alter these power dynamics? In response, there are calls for more equitable practices or equity to be accorded to those most marginalized, implying ‘more for those who need it’   not only in material terms, but also in political terms by giving them voice and choice.

Poverty also excludes and marginalizes people. Growing margins of inequality based on gender intersecting with ethnicity, age, race, ability, place and persistent poverty continue and are exacerbated in contexts where environmental stresses are also most felt.

The SEI Initiative on Gender Equality, Social Equity and Poverty seeks to understand the inter-connections between gender, equity, poverty, and sustainability from the lens of power to inform and advance transformative and sustainable development. Through deliberative engagements using innovative approaches with disadvantaged groups and boundary partners, the Initiative aims to support action and change agendas that respond to these issues. The Initiative also supports the integration of gender equality, social equity, and poverty dimensions in SEI research to strengthen SEI’s internal capacity for research for policy that considers these aspects.

The Gender Equality, Social Equity and Poverty (GESEP) Initiative builds on SEI’s existing research on sustainability, equity and gender, and work completed in the previous SEI Gender and Social Equality Programme.