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During my first term of MSW studies, feminism became my gateway to structural social work and anti-oppressive practice. It examines structures of power between genders and, more recently, intersectional power differentials.

Historical Context

After first wave feminism achieved property rights and suffrage (Munro, 2013), second wave feminism adopted "the personal is political" and began to identify and fight sexism and patriarchy in all aspects of women's lives (Mack-Canty, 2004; Munro, 2013).

Third wave feminism recognizes the heterogeneity/intersectionality of persons and experiences and was influenced by queer theory (Munro, 2013). Third Wave feminists work "to raise consciousness about, provide political commentary on, and resist and educate against racism, child abuse, rape, domestic violence, homophobia and heterosexism, ablism, fatism, environmental degradation, classism, the protection of healthcare rights, reproductive rights, and equity. It is a tool kit designed for providing access to and transformations of traditionally masculinist cultural institutions" (Garrison, 2000).

Feminist Practice

"Feminist social work practice...is concerned with eliminating domination, subordination, exploitation, and oppression of women" (Heinonen, & Spearman, 2010).

Heinonen and Spearman (2010) outlined the following as important to feminist social work practice:

  • Validation.
    Validation of a person's unique experience
  • Consciousness-Raising.
    Facilitate understanding of the effects of oppressive systems.
  • Transformative Action.
    Actively fight agains systems of oppression. This is often a group dynamic.
  • Affirmation.
    Affirmation of the value of endeavours traditionally taken on by women.
  • Development of the Whole Person.
    Ensure that basic needs are met and encourage wholistic development, "including personal growth and exploring and integrating new behaviours that are free of gender stereotypes" (Russell, 1989 cited in Heinonen, & Spearman, 2010, p. 291).

Feminism seeks to change oppressive structures and overlaps with structural social work, anti-oppressive practice and queer theory.

A Personal Note

Munro (2013) asserts that fourth wave feminism has grown with the internet in 'call-out' culture and 'privilege-checking'. While I have always agreed with principles of gender equity, it was fourth wave feminism that enabled me to acknowledge that the world works differently for everyone. For me, much of that new awareness came from @EverydaySexism on Twitter.


Garrison, E.K., (2000). U.S. Feminism-Grrrl Style! Youth (Sub)Cultures and the Technologics of the Third Wave. Feminist Studies, 26(1). 141-170

Heinonen, T., & Spearman, L. (2010). Social Work Practice, Problem Solving and Beyond (3rd ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education Ltd.

Mack-Canty, C. (2004). Third-Wave Feminism and the Need to Reweave the Nature/Culture Duality. NWSA Journal, 16(3). 154-179.

Munro, E. (2013). Feminism: A Fourth Wave? Political Insight, 4. 22–25. doi:10.1111/2041-9066.12021

"Feminist social work practice...is concerned with eliminating domination, subordination, exploitation, and oppression of women" (Heinonen, & Spearman, 2010).

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