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Oppression: A social determinant of health

“Oppression and health are intricately connected.”

This edited book presents analysis of oppression as a significant influence on health and wellbeing from leading experts in the field. Oppression is defined as “discrimination backed up by systemic or structural power, sometimes referred to as institutionalized power, including government, education, legal, and health system policies and practices” (pg. 30).

In 3 sections, critical social science perspectives and health systems/health sciences knowledge are used to argue we must consistently and explicitly integrate analysis of systemic forces such as capitalism, globalization, imperialism, medicalization, neo-colonialism and neoliberalism if we are to change the oppressive practices that cause ill health. This analysis frames health inequities within the context of systemic oppression through a focus on the differential health outcomes across age, gender, race, social class and sexual orientation. These health inequities are rooted in ageism, misogyny and patriarchy, racism, classism, heterosexism and homophobia (among others).

Part 1, Politicizing health, explains how systemic power structures are connected to health and provides an overview of oppression and its relationship to health across the lifespan. Intersectionality theory is introduced as a way of understanding how “isms” relate to the social determinants of health. This section closes with a discussion of the links between the social determinants, health outcomes and the systemic contexts which create and reproduce poor health.

Part 2, How oppression operates to produce health inequities, provides examples of how ageism, sexism, racism, colonialism, neocolonialism and social exclusion affect the health of older women, people of colour, Indigenous peoples and socially excluded groups. Additional chapters focus on mental health and links between oppression, migration and health.

The final section, Toward structural change, builds on the social change message through the exploration of public policy, political economy and human rights perspectives.

Use this resource to:

  • Explore how complex systemic forces shape health
  • Identify strategies to support action to intervene on large scale systems


McGibbon, E. (Ed). (2012). Oppression: a social determinant of health. Fernwood Publishing.

Tags: Access to health services, Critical works in health equity, Indigenous health , Key concepts, Policy analysis, Racism/racialization, Sex & gender

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