Key messages

Anti-oppression is an understanding that inequality and oppression exist in the world, and that all of us participate in unequal power dynamics in a variety of ways.

Anti-oppression involves reflection and making choices about how to give, share, wield, or withhold power to assist and act in solidarity with people who are marginalized.

Anti-oppression is sometimes used with the terms equity and accessibility: Anti-oppression is a broader term that includes a commitment to equity and accessibility.

People do not belong to just one category or social location.

  • Our identities are complex and multiple; fluid rather than fixed. As a result we can be both victims and perpetrators of oppression.
  • We often re-create the relations of social power and control that also oppress us. For example, one may experience oppression because of female gender but at the same time experience white privilege.

The ideas, thoughts and beliefs of people who “belong” to groups that are highest on the social hierarchy create “dominant culture”.

  • Dominant culture becomes the standard or norm by which everyone is compared.
  • For example: in Canada the dominant cultural norm related to women’s clothing does not include wearing the hijab; as a result wearing the hijab is considered unusual and abnormal.

People who are members of privileged groups have the power to control access to resources and information. This perpetuates the cycle of power and oppression for people who are not members of these groups.

  • People who are marginalized and exploited experience limited access to the power to shape their own past, present and future.
  • For example, Canadian history has been written from the perspective of white skinned, European-descended colonialists. This historical perspective is perpetuated through dominant educational institutions as the only true view of history.

Not everyone from the same social group has the same experiences because people have many different lived experiences, and often live with more than one identity of marginalization.

  • People who live with multiply-marginalized identities don’t merely face extra barriers; their lived experience is entirely different.
  • For example, consider the issue of abortion. It has been framed as “a woman’s right to choose,” as a way to empower women. But all women do not have the same choices. Abortion was a “right” already imposed on racialized women for the purposes of eugenics

Integrated anti-oppression work requires that individuals accept responsibility for their role in perpetrating oppression both interpersonally and systemically. To bring about change, individuals and systems must be changed.

Our organizational role means power over clients.

  • Our identities, and the identities of our clients, are complex and multiple and sometimes they change over time.
  • We must also understand how identities can change depending on what position a person occupies in any given role or situation.

An ARAO framework is inextricably connected to the goals of our work.

  • We have a choice: we can either perpetuate or work to break down inequity and oppression.
  • The goals of an ARAO framework are not separate from the goals of our HIV, Hep C, harm reduction and housing support programs: our clients experience barriers in the health, social service and housing systems.


What does this mean locally / at your organization?

We suggest you chat with your supervisor and/or colleagues and learn about the following:

  • What policy changes your agency has made to ensure equity to all employees and members of the community you serve?
  • What actions your agency are taking to be part of the solution?


Core curriculum training

While no HRO Core Curriculum exists, several HRO members offer more in-depth training and support and some basic level training is available for free online. Some of these are noted below.’


Learn more here