In The Classroom / Social Justice

Intersectionality, Social Democracy, and Human Rights

Danial Asadolahi

Danial Asadolahi, Psy.D. student

Danial Asadolahi, a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology student at the Vancouver Campus, is the winner of the 2018 Adler University essay contest. The Office of Student Affairs asked students to write about two questions:

  • How have you seen intersectionality advance the cause of social justice?
  • How might an increase in intersectionality contribute to the building of healthier communities?

Asadolahi graciously agreed to share his essay with our community.

A discussion that members of my Psy.D. cohort and I at Adler University had last semester in a humanistic-existential psychology class drew my attention to the important concept of intersectionality, which states that some human beings are multiply oppressed as a consequence of simultaneously belonging to several historically oppressed social groups (e.g., certain racial and ethnic groups, certain socioeconomic classes, and certain genders). Being a clinical psychology student undergoing training to advance social justice through my future clinical practice, my interest in the intersectionality topic was piqued. I conducted some research regarding the subject on my own time, and eventually discovered information that can help answer the questions: 1) how have I seen intersectionality advance the cause of social justice, and 2) how might an increase in intersectionality contribute to the building of healthier communities. I will first discuss how the research I conducted helped provide an answer for the first of the aforementioned two questions.

My research familiarized me with social democracy, a social and political movement advocating partial de-commodification of the market economy, regulation of the market in the interest of the public, full employment, and the recognition of a variety of social and economic rights, including workers’ rights and rights to healthcare, welfare, and education (Jackson, 2017). In addition to the aforementioned social, economic, and political goals, advocates of social democracy seek to advance feminist, anti-racist, pro-environmental, disability rights-related, and Indigenous rights-related goals (Jackson, 2017).

Analysis of social democratic goals shows that social democracy represents an egalitarian form of thinking that aims to ensure the health, welfare, and security of all members of society, regardless of their racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and other identities (Jackson, 2017). It can thus be argued that social democracy advocates recognize the truth of intersectionality, namely that there are people in modern society who are being multiply oppressed by virtue of being members of several historically oppressed groups. As a result of them effectively thinking in terms of intersectionality, proponents of social democracy advance the cause of social justice by endeavoring to build a society free of all manner of oppression.

I will now examine how the research I conducted regarding intersectionality helped me answer the second of the two questions mentioned at the beginning of this essay, namely, how might an increase in intersectionality contribute to the building of healthier communities. My research drew my attention to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Analysis of this important moral document demonstrates that it includes such articles as “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…” (UN General Assembly, 1948). On the basis of such articles, commentators have noted that the Universal Declaration sets forth “…a particularly comprehensive principle of non-discrimination” and calls for societal transformation ensuring the protection of all people’s human rights everywhere (Cançado Trinidade, 2008).

The above paragraph makes it clear that racial, class, gender-based and other forms of oppression all constitute human rights violations. As the concept of intersectionality describes the experience of being multiply oppressed as a consequence of belonging to multiple oppressed social groups, intersectionality can reasonably be viewed as the experience of suffering human rights violations in multiple societal domains (e.g., the social, the cultural, the political, and the economic). A human rights-based understanding of intersectionality can arguably help those seeking to build healthier communities by giving them a clear path: activism, advocacy, and educational efforts geared towards the protection of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration in the social, cultural, political, and economic realms.



Cançado Trinidade, A. (2008). Universal declaration of human rights. United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (pp. 1–4) [On-line]. Retrieved from

Jackson, A. (2017). Reflections on the social democratic tradition. Retrieved from

UN General Assembly. (1948). “Universal declaration of human rights” (217 [III] A). Paris. Retrieved from