Examples of Oppression

, Staff Writer
Updated January 19, 2021
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    example oppression slavery
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Oppression is the result of a cruel or unjust exercise of power. Minorities have historically been subject to oppression by those in power. Unfortunately, oppression still exists today, and there are many examples of it. Learn more about what oppression really is and discover several examples of oppression.

What Is Oppression?

Oppression occurs when groups are subjected to cruel or unjust treatment or control over an extended period of time. It can occur to one or more groups of people within a society or segment of society. Oppression involves the exertion of power or control by a group or individual in power over those who don't have power. Its focus is to keep minority or disadvantaged groups (the oppressed) down while retaining power for those currently in control (the oppressors).


Examples of Oppression in Everyday Life

Oppression can take many forms in society.

Glass Ceiling in the Workplace

The fact that an employer hires underrepresented minorities doesn't mean that the workplace is free of oppression. The presence of a glass ceiling, which is a point above which minorities cannot rise in the organization, is an example of workplace oppression. When there are a lot of minorities in the rank-and-file workers but none in management or other higher-level jobs, that's a sure sign that oppression may be present in the organization

Women as Property

Some societies say that women are the property of their fathers or husbands. Women are not permitted to wear clothing of their own choosing or to go anywhere without permission from a man. In some, they cannot have bank accounts or even drive a car. Fathers decide who their daughters will marry and wives must obey their husbands. This is an example of a society where women are oppressed.


Racial Inequality

A society exists where people of a certain race are denied educational opportunities and equality under the law. People within the disfavored race are not permitted to learn to read or to attend school. They have to live in certain designated areas and must do the jobs that they are told to do by the leaders of the society. The people who are denied opportunities are oppressed on the basis of race. Jim Crow laws present in the United States until the early 20th century are an example of this type of oppression.

Lack of Religious Freedom

A society exists where people who believe in a certain set of religious teachings are considered to be inferior to others who accept a state or majority religion. Those who practice their own religious beliefs can be punished or even jailed for their opinions and practices. In this society, the people who practice the forbidden religion are oppressed.


Oppressive Dictatorship

A society that is under the thumb of a cruel dictator or tyrant is one where oppression is a fact of everyday life for many people. Anyone who disagrees with the policies of the dictator can be killed for sharing his opinion and voicing the disagreement. The people of the society who live under the dictator are oppressed.

Oppression of the Poor

A society is controlled by a small percentage of very wealthy people. The wealthy people deny opportunities to those who are poor. The poor work for almost no wages and struggle to achieve a basic human standard of living such as having food and shelter. The poor are carefully controlled by the oppressors and prevented from organizing or resisting the will of the wealthy. This is an example of a society where the poor are oppressed.


Oppressive Assistance Programs

Even public assistance programs designed to help those who are impoverished can actually be oppressive. For example, in the United States, people who qualify for government assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), will lose all benefits if they save up even a very small amount of money. The amount varies by state, but is as low as $1,000 for TANF and $2,000 for Medicaid and SNAP in some states. Those who try to save up to help themselves lose all assistance before they are able to even accumulate enough money to cover basic needs for a few weeks.

Government Controlled Speech

A government that carefully controls what people are allowed to say is one where free speech is not a right. The internet is not accessible to the public, certain books are banned and the media works for the state and is permitted to write only the positive news that the state allows to be printed. In such a society, journalists can be jailed or assassinated for seeking to tell the truth. This is an example of a society where the people who are under the control of the authority are oppressed.


Migrant Oppression

A society allows migrants to enter its borders but will not grant them any rights. The migrants are not allowed to participate in the political process and are not protected by the laws that apply to citizens. The migrants can be forced to work for low wages and are denied basic services such as access to food and health care. This is an example of a situation where the migrants are oppressed by society.

Abusive Relationships

In abusive relationships, one of the abuser's goal is to oppress the person (or people) he or she is abusing. The abuser wants all of the control and power in the relationship, and they want those they are abusing to feel dependent on them. Abusers will do and/or say things to term down the targets of their abuse so that they feel too powerless to try to leave the dangerous and unhealthy relationship.


Overcoming Oppression

In the examples of oppression discussed above, those who are in power or in control treat those who have no power unfairly and deprive them of certain basic rights or liberties. Oppression often occurs as a result of xenophobia or other forms of prejudice or bias. It can lead to many problems, including discrimination. Follow appropriate examples of moral behavior to help ensure that your actions don't in any way contribute to oppression. Establish and comply with your own personal code of ethics that is above reproach and you'll be on your way to being part of the solution.