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The 5 W’s and the H’s of the Anti-Oppression Framework

February 4th, 2013     by deb singh     Comments

The Anti-Oppression framework is a tool to see how people experience oppression in the world and a way for us to stop it. This blog will outline some of the basics of what the anti-oppression framework is, how it is used by/against people and how we can use it as a tool for supporting people in our own communities.

What is Anti-Oppression?

Anti-oppression is a way of thinking about the world as well as a tool to use to see the world. Anti-oppression is “a tool to understand and respond to the complexity of the experience of oppression” (B. Burke and P. Harrison, Communication, Relationships and Care: A Reader, 2003). Anti-oppression is a way of naming oppression that happens against certain people, based on their identities, and then a way to work toward ending that mistreatment, oppression, violence toward that particular group.

More specifically, anti-oppression identifies the experiences of people based on their race, their gender identity, sexual identity, their physical and mental ability, their choice of religion, their class background (whether growing up poor, working poor, working, middle or upper class), their physical appearance (fat or thin), and the list goes on. It also is a way to challenge the ways people are treated based on these identities. For example when a woman is treated in a sexist way or a person of colour experiences racism.

Who is affected by Oppression and Anti-Oppression?

(Anti-)oppression affects everyone. Anti-oppression includes all people, those who experience oppression, and those who experience privilege, which can be all of us at some point or another. In particular, (having) privilege means people who experience advantages in the world based on their identity. The following are some examples of oppression, identity and privilege.

For example, Black people will experience racism based on their race identity. Therefore they will experience oppression/being treated negatively/racism in the world because of their Blackness. This has been proven time and time again via historical examples like slavery, and segregation.

If we know that Black people have been oppressed, treated in violent and inhumane ways throughout history, this also means that other races have been seen as the ‘right’ ones, the ones worthy of power. White people created laws that allowed slavery to happen for example, so it can be said that White people have been privileged over Black people throughout history.

Where did Anti-Oppression come from?

Anti-oppression is becoming a tool that is more widely used every day on Turtle Island (North America). More and more groups are talking about the use of an anti-oppression framework every day. Even the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has a policy regarding the treatment of students in context of an anti-oppression framework.

At the same time, I believe the idea of anti-oppression came from feminist origins, where women who were more marginalized than white feminists, wanted a larger analysis of feminism to include more than trying to combat sexism alone. For example, while Black women experience sexism, they also experience racism and white feminists weren’t trying to combat that (within themselves as well as systemically in institutions like government and universities) so lots of anti-oppression tool creating came out of the necessity of feminists who were disadvantaged in multiple ways, not just being a woman.

When did Anti-Oppression come into existence?

As feminists started to see or rather not see themselves as part of a movement toward ending sexism, because their own identity struggles were not being included, I believe anti-oppression theory was born. As a soon as white feminists said “hey, we can only fight one battle at a time and sexism is the most important one!” anti-oppression came into philosophical existence. Further, when women who were apart of struggles around civil rights and the emancipation of Black people wanted to talk about sexism and were told the same thing, anti-oppression was born.

Many people can talk about when the knowledge of anti-oppression was born. As has been mentioned, it was a necessity of those who experienced multiple forms of oppression at the same time, inside social movements. Of course, knowledge creators in universities like to write stuff down first, claiming this is the origin (and validation) of this framework of thinking. And while I am clear in thinking about First Knowledge (that is, the knowledge of Indigenous peoples), Native peoples had always been treating each other equitably based on their experience in Indigenous communities throughout pre-colonial history - it’s probable that anti-oppression came from all these places at once.

Why use Anti-Oppression as a way to think about the world?

The cool thing about this way of thinking is that it can help you get through the hard experiences of oppression, personal and systemic. It can help others figure out how to think about why the world is the way it is, instead of blaming individuals for their lot in life. Have you ever heard the myth that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work and that’s why they are homeless? Anti-oppressive thinking allows us to know some more solid, and less blaming ‘answers’ to why people experience things like homelessness, etc.

How can I use Anti-Oppression in my life?

How anti-oppression frameworks/ways of thinking play out is really up to the thinker (i.e. you!) I think if we really consider people’s experience in the world, instead of judging them for their situation, we can create a more understanding and loving world. We all want others to see us for who we really are, we all want to be accepted - anti-oppressive actions can be a way to do that for ourselves and others, and therefore can support in creating a more harmonious world.



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. Refers also to the injustices suffered by marginalized groups in their everyday interactions with members of the dominant group. The marginalized groups usually lack avenues to express reaction to disrespect, inequality, injustice and lack of response to their situation by individuals and institutions that can make improvements.
“Being oppressed means the absence of choices” - Bell Hooks


Identity may be defined as the distinctive characteristic belonging to any given individual, or shared by all members of a particular social category or group.
“These incidents, which happen quite frequently in ‘women of color’ or ‘people of color’ political organizing struggles, are often explained as a consequence of ‘oppression olympics.’ That is to say, one problem we have is that we are too busy fighting over who is more oppressed.”


The experience of freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages, access and/or opportunities afforded members of the dominant group in a society or in a given context, usually unrecognized and taken for granted by members of the majority group, while the same freedoms, rights, benefits, advantages access and/or opportunities are denied to members of the minority or disadvantaged groups.
“I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.”


That which allows one group to name and classify subordinate groups and to subject them to differential treatment.
“No one man should have all that power.” Kanye West, Power, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Album, 2010

Tags: activist report, politics, race and racism

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