In all cultures and countries, there is the potential for people to be treated favourably because they meet the standards that the society approve of. This may be because of their appearance, their cultural background, class or gender. Contrary to this, people who do not fit these standards may be stigmatised, discriminated against and have a poorer quality of life.


Many cultures value the power, knowledge and social standing of men over women. Often this is religion based but it permeates the laws and social norms that people live by. These attitudes have been shown to lead to gender inequality – the belief that women are not as strong, as smart or emotionally capable as men. As of 2018, the gender pay gap in Australia showed women earning 85 cents to mens’ dollar. One in two women reported experiencing workplace discrimination due to their plan to either take time off work to have children or their decision to come back to work after having children.1

Patriarchy can be easily confused as male privilege. And while men can benefit from these systems, it needs to be acknowledged that women aren’t the only ones to be affected negatively by patriarchal societies. Like women, men are subjected to unrealistic expectations such as withholding emotions, being the sole provider for their family and putting their health at risk to do so. Stereotypical thinking of genders has also lead to the justice system favouring mothers over fathers in child custody battles.

Assigning power and value to genders also further complicates day to day experiences of transgender, non-binary and other gender-diverse people across the globe. While feminism movements look to improve the equality of women’s living conditions, they often fail to be inclusive of transwomen, instead focusing only on women who were assigned female at birth.

White Privilege

White privilege is the unconscious bias that whiteness is the epitome of normalcy, trustworthiness and has a higher value. It gives power to white people. White privilege is not racism in and of itself, it is a by-product of systemic racism. It is a relatively new concept, only beginning to be openly discussed since the 1970’s.

The word ‘privilege’ often does not sit well with many white people who are doing it tough financially or feel that they are disadvantaged. Being referred to as ‘white’ and identified by their skin colour has also been a new experience for many. It is important to recognise that while a person may be privileged in one way, they could be discriminated against in another way. For example, person can be privileged due to their race but they may also be disadvantaged or discriminated against for a different aspect of their identity like their gender, sexuality, ability, etc.

I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

– Peggy McIntosh

It isn’t surprising that white privilege is still a part of our society when the White Australia policy only ended in the 1950s. A study in Queensland in 2013 put racial bias to the test by asking test subjects from different cultural backgrounds to pretend they did not have the money for a bus ticket after their pass failed to work. The study found that after more than 1,500 attempts 72% of white people were allowed to travel on the bus in comparison to only 36% of black people. Indian people were let on 51% of the time and Asian people at a rate of 73%.2

The Australian 2022 parliament house is the most diverse it has ever been with 6.6% federal MPs identifying with a non-European ancestry – meanwhile, 23% of the general public identifies the same.3 While this is an improvement, there is still much work to be done, both in the perspective of migrants and First Nation Australians, in the government, in schools, in the workplace and our communities. People across all cultures should be involved in decision making to ensure the efficacy and long-term outcomes of programs.

Beyond Race and Gender

Privilege can be found in many instances where a majority is present. Sometimes it is due to a characteristic that is physically visible like ability, height, wealth or age. Sometimes it is due to a less visible characteristics like ability, sexuality, education or religious beliefs.

Our brains are programmed to see things that are different as being dangerous or aversive. Most privileges come about due to assumptions made by individuals and systems that expect people will conform to certain standards because it feels safe. 

If you have or had the experiences below, it is likely that you have experienced privilege:

Click on or hover over the cards below for more information

Gender Normativity

If you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth and identify as male or female.


If you attended a mainstream school into your high school years, you attended university.


Your country celebrates your religious holidays, you can get time off of work for them and there are places of worship available to you.


If you do not have difficulty accessing buildings, information or communicating with people in your day to day life.


If you do not have to 'disclose' your sexuality to new people you meet, you aren't afraid of violence or discrimination due to your sexuality.

Mental Health

If you do not take medication for your mental health or see a therapist.

A Moment of Reflection...

Recount a situation where you were aware of your own privilege.

  • What was it about you that was favourable? E.g. gender, race, physical appearance, sexuality.
  • How were you treated?
  • How do you think someone different to you would have been treated in the same situation?

Share this story in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Self Determination

Some vulnerable populations have experienced having the control over their lives taken away from them. The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia has been one of the most recent developments in this matter for people with a disability.

In 2013, the NDIS gave people with a disability and their carers the ability to choose who provided the services that they received. Prior to this they were given a referral to a provider who they were expected to utilise. If there was an issue with that provider, it wasn’t uncommon for it to go unsaid as there was a fear of losing the service entirely or having to undergo an extensive wait while another provider was found.

Due to a history of institutionalisation and social isolation, people with a disability can still be denied their human rights of self-determination and dignity of risk. This often happens due to people of the general public thinking that they are doing the right thing and ‘looking after’ the person with a disability.

The belief that people with a disability need to be cared for has lead to them having things ‘done to’ them rather than ‘done with’ them. They are not included in decision making or given the opportunity to have a valued role in their community. This has been a similar fate for First Nations people and other minority groups.

In truth, many people with a disability are capable of making their own decisions and caring for themselves, either independently or with assistance of a trusted person. They are entitled to the human right of being the boss of their own lives.

Click on the arrow below to play the video

The denial of self-determination has also been experienced by First Nations people and other people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Older people and young children have also had this right withheld as there is the stigmatised belief that they are unable to be consulted on decisions that affect them. The tendency for the government and formal services to take on a paternal and ‘expert’ role has only added to the distrust of these services for many marginalised communities.

When we identify a situation where people are not in control of their own lives it is often due to a power imbalance. Sometimes this power imbalance is due to value being placed on a certain characteristic – e.g. whiteness, gender, ability. The favoured people use their power to make decisions for others and they are often accepted without dispute because the population who are affected are so stigmatised and have internalised their oppression.

There is no hard and fast solution but place-based community development can help to give power back to communities through social justice and upholding human rights.

Enjoying the course so far? Buy the course or the full Community Development in Practice package.

  1. Australian Human Rights Commission (2018). Face the Facts: Gender Equality. Accessed on 05/04/23 at

  2. Mujcic, R. & Frijters, P. (2013). Still Not Allowed on the Bus: It Matters If You’re Black or White! (no. 7300) Institute of Labor Economics, Germany. Accessed on 05/04/23 at

Watch ABC’s short video to understand more about why Australia wanted a White Australia policy.

Read Everyday Feminism’s article on 10 Examples of Straight Privilege.

Read Sam Killerman’s article that points out more than 30 examples of Christian Privilege. It is specific to the United States but many points can be generalised to Australia too.

The Attorney-General’s Department outlines the importance of self-determination as a human right in this article.

Post a comment

Leave a Comment