What is Anti-Oppression Social Work?

Anti-oppression is an approach within social work and related fields to identify, challenge, and dismantle systemic forms of oppression and discrimination. It emphasizes promoting social justice, equality, and human rights. The roots of anti-oppression practice can be traced to various social movements, including feminist, civil rights, and anti-colonial movements, which gained momentum in the mid-20th century. This approach recognizes the intersectionality of identities and strives to address power imbalances within institutions and society.

My commitment to social justice began as an undergrad social work student. You might not have noticed, but that is me (center, in all white) during a 1990 student protest at Temple University. We sat on the hot asphalt in protest with no food but only determination-filled bellies to shut the school down! Looking back, I can't believe I sat before a 30,000 lb SEPTA bus, feeling the heavy weight bearing down on my 110 lb frame. Over 500 students were determined to help put Temple University "on its' knees" if it did not meet our demands for the harsh and unjust treatment of black students by campus police during a student "brawl" between white and black students. 

That day on the Temples University campus was one of many protests, rallies, and organizing communities that I would participate in over the years to help eradicate social or racial injustices. 

My social work background prepared me with the core concepts and ethical responsibility for anti-oppressive practice.

Here are a few guiding principles and practices that I strive to incorporate in my approach to people with whom I work:

Cultural Humility and Sensitivity 

Social workers strive to be culturally competent by understanding and respecting diverse cultural backgrounds. This includes recognizing the impact of culture on individuals' experiences and tailoring interventions accordingly.

Intersectionality

Acknowledging the intersectionality of identities (such as race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status) is crucial. Anti-oppressive social work recognizes that individuals may face multiple forms of oppression simultaneously, and interventions should address these intersecting factors.

Power Dynamics

Social workers critically examine power dynamics in relationships and systems. They work to empower clients and communities, promoting their active involvement in decision-making processes and advocating for their rights.

Advocacy

Social workers engage in advocacy at various levels to challenge discriminatory policies and practices. This may involve advocating for changes within organizations, communities, or at the policy level to address systemic oppression.

Trauma-Informed Practice

Anti-oppressive social work recognizes the impact of trauma on individuals and communities, especially those who have experienced systemic oppression. Trauma-informed practices prioritize safety, trustworthiness, and empowerment.

Critical Reflection

Social workers critically reflect on their own biases, assumptions, and values. This self-awareness helps them avoid perpetuating oppressive practices and fosters a commitment to social justice.

Community Development

Anti-oppressive social work emphasizes community engagement and development. This involves collaborating with communities to identify and address systemic barriers, fostering collective empowerment, and building sustainable social change.

Inclusive Language

Social workers use inclusive and non-discriminatory language that respects individuals' self-identified gender, ethnicity, and other characteristics. This promotes an environment of respect and dignity.

Education and Training

Social workers participate in ongoing education and training to stay informed about current oppression and social justice issues. This ensures they have the knowledge and skills to address these issues effectively.

Collaborative Partnerships

Social workers collaborate with other professionals, agencies, and community organizations to create a support network. Building partnerships helps amplify efforts to combat oppression and work toward social change.

Policy Advocacy

Social workers engage in advocacy for policies that promote equality and justice. This may involve challenging discriminatory laws, advocating for social welfare programs, and participating in policy-making.

By incorporating these anti-oppressive practices, social workers create a more just and equitable society while supporting and empowering individuals and communities facing oppression.