Anti-Oppression Framework Refresher

Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Understand what is meant by oppression
  2. Illustrate an understanding of what Anti-Oppression Framework is
  3. Understand the different types of oppression (race, gender, class etc.) and how they interconnect
bell hooks Being oppressed means the absence of choices
Photo Credit: Quotes HD


The following definitions are from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation:

Anti-Oppression–Strategies, theories and actions that challenge social and historical inequalities and injustices that are systemic to our systems and institutions by policies and practices that allow certain groups to dominate over other groups.

Equity–A condition or state of fair, inclusive, and respectful treatment of all people. Equity does not mean treating people the same without regard for individual differences.

Equity Versus Equality
Photo Credit:


Oppression–The unilateral subjugation of one individual or group by a more powerful individual or group, using physical, psychological, social or economic threats or force, and frequently using an explicit ideology to sanction the oppression.

Power–The ability to influence others and impose one’s beliefs.

Privilege–The experience of freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages, access and/or opportunities afforded some people because of their group membership or social context.

We use Anti-Oppression Framework in our work with youth and in our lives every day. We may not use the term anti-oppression to describe our approach to our work. Some may use other terms like: social justice, equity, inclusiveness, etc. All of these acknowledge that are inequalities in our society that are rooted in the view that some groups enjoy unearned privilege and others suffer because of unearned privilege.

While you are reviewing this module, please consider the concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. This module focuses on defining oppression and sets the foundation for seeing how the systems of oppression are connected.

What is Oppression?

Oppression is generally understood as the domination of subordinate groups in society by powerful (politically, economically, socially, and culturally) group. It entails the various ways that this domination occurs, including how structural arrangements favour the dominant over subordinate group” (Mullaly, 2002: 27).

This section builds on Dr. Jama Shelton’s presentation to the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness at the 2013 Annual Conference held in Toronto.

Here is the clip where Dr. Shelton defines oppression.

Oppression occurs on four levels:

Ideological oppression is the big idea that comes from constructed ideas of the oppressed group(s) creating norms, beliefs and standards. For example, oppression based on:

  • race is racism
  • sex is sexism
  • class is classism
  • ethnicity is ethnocentrism
  • heteronormativity is heterosexism
  • cisnormativity is cissexism

Institutional oppression is how these “big ideas” play out in institutions (e.g. education, justice, health). For example:

  • Heterosexism is the reason why in the United States there is a fight for marriage equality. Recent events in Russia and Ugunda with laws that have made being LGBTQ2S illegal.
  • Cisnormativity is why the Ontario Human Rights Commission released its “Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression” in the spring of 2014.

Interpersonal oppression is how these “big ideas” play out in our interactions with others. For example:

  • It is estimated that up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S. Many youth leave home because of family rejection or fear being rejected by their families.

Internalised oppression is how these “big ideas” play out in how we view ourselves and impact what we think about and how we feel about ourselves and other who share our identities.

  • This is why trans youth attempt suicide at a rate 8 times the average of cisgender youth.

Here is the slide from Dr. Shelton’s presentation that shows how the four levels of oppression interconnect:

Four Levels of Oppression
Photo Credit: Forty to None Project



Canadian Race Relations Foundation. (n.d.). CRRF Glossary of Terms. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from

Mullaly, R. (2002). Challenging oppression: A critical social work approach. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press.

Shelton, J. (2013, November 20). LGBTQ Youth and Homelessness. LGBTQ Youth and Homelessness Town Hall. Lecture conducted from National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness, Toronto.


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