- Number of participants = 10 – 30
- Theme = Discrimination, human rights, privilege
- Duration = 60 minutes
- Difficult for participants = Level 3
- Difficulty for facilitator = Level 1
We are all equal, but some are more equal than others. In this activity, participants take on roles and move forward depending on their experiences and opportunities in life.
- To raise awareness about inequality of opportunity
- To develop imagination and critical thinking
- To foster empathy with others who are less fortunate
- Role cards (paper, pen, photocopier, scissor)
- Soft/relaxing music
- Music player & speakers
- A long open space (a corridor, large room or outdoor)
- Read the instructions carefully. Review the list of ‘situations and events’ and adapt it to the group that you are working with.
- Make one role card per participant. Copy the (adapted) sheet either by hand or on a photocopier, cut out the strips, fold them over and put them in the hat.
Flow of the Exercise
Create a calm atmosphere with some soft background music. Alternatively, ask the participants for silence.
Ask participants to each take a role card out of the hat. Tell them to keep it to themselves and not to show it to anyone else.
Invite them to sit down (preferably on the floor) and read carefully what is on their role card.
Now, ask them to get into the role. To help, read out some of the following questions, pausing after each one, to give people time to reflect and build up a picture of themselves and their lives:
- What was your childhood like? What sort of house did you live in? What kind of games did you play? What sort of work did your parents do?
- What is your everyday life like? Where do you socialise? What do you do in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening?
- What sort of lifestyle do you have? Where do you live? How much money do you earn each month? What do you do in your leisure time? What do you do in your holidays?
- What excites you and what are you afraid of?
Ask people to remain absolutely silent as they line up beside each other (like on a starting line for a race).
Tell the participants that you are going to read out a list of situations or events. Every time that they can answer ‘yes’ to the statement, they should take a step forward. Otherwise, they should stay where they are and not move.
Read out the situations one at a time. Pause for a while between each statement to allow people time to step forward and take note of their position relative to one another.
At the end, invite everyone to take note of his/her final position. Then, give them a couple of minutes to come out of the role, before debriefing.
Start by asking participants about what happened and how they felt about the activity. Then go on to talk about the issues raised and what they have learnt.
- How did people feel stepping forward – or not?
- For those who often stepped forward, at what point did they begin to notice that others were not moving as fast as they were?
- Did anyone feel that there were moments when his/her basic human rights were being ignored?
- Can people guess each other’s roles? (Let people reveal their roles during this part of the discussion)
- How easy or difficult was it to play the different roles? How did they imagine what the person they were playing was like?
- Does the exercise mirror society in some way? If so, how?
- Which human rights are at stake for each of the roles? Could anyone say that their human rights were not being respected or that they did not have access to them?
- Which first steps could be taken to address the inequalities in society?
Inequality as an opportunity
This first variation adds a further dimension to the symbolism of inequality. You need a long length of very thin string or paper ribbon that will break easily. When the participants line up at
the start, walk along the line unwinding the ribbon as you go. As you pass, each person takes hold of the ribbon, so that everyone ends up ‘joined’ along the ribbon. When the moment comes to take a step forward, some participants will be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to move and break the ribbon.
Those left behind may blame others for breaking the ribbon. It may therefore be necessary to remind people of the rule that ‘every time they can answer ‘yes’ to the statement, they must take a step forward. Otherwise, they should stay where they are and not move.’
Run the first round as described, and then play a second round that has the potential to reveal sometimes undervalued competences. The participants keep the same roles. In the second round, read out statements that you have prepared beforehand that focus on strengths that disadvantaged people may have, precisely because of their situation. For example:
- You speak more than two languages and use them every day.
- You have overcome personal physical or mental disability, which has given you the selfconfidence and inner strength to cope with your situation.
- You suffer from a terminal illness and therefore know better the value of life than others.
- You were brought up in a remote village and have a deep understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world, as a result of climate change.
- You know how to live on a small budget and where to find the best bargains.
Group ideas for social change
Try this method by having the second part of the debriefing in smaller groups, after each role has been revealed. Working firstly in small groups and then having them share their ideas in plenary is one way to get more ideas on the table, and to deepen participants’ understanding. Having co-facilitators is essential if you do this.
Ask the groups to explore who in their society has fewer, and who has more, chances or opportunities, and what first steps can and should be taken to address any inequalities. Alternatively, ask groups to take one of the characters and ask what could be done, i.e. what duties and responsibilities they themselves, the community and the government have towards this person.
Possible Follow up Activities
Depending on the social context of where you are, you may want to invite representatives from advocacy groups for certain cultural or social minorities to talk to the group. Find out from them what issues they are currently fighting for, and how you and young people can help. Such face-to-face meetings would also be an opportunity to address or review some of the prejudices or stereotyping that came out during the discussion. Follow through on how the participants can help groups and organisations working with cultural or social minorities and turn these ideas into practice.
Follow up activities could include the methods What’s Your Single Story? and Check Your Privileges! to concentrate on and discuss more stereotypes and the concept of privilege.
Discover what are the consequences of stereotypes, prejudice, oppression and discrimination through the method Columbian Hypnosis, or Image Theatre where participants get a feeling for power dynamics. In the method Path to Equality Land, participants explore issues of inequality, privilege, discrimination and racism through imagination and drawing, and try to overcome the inequality, which they observed through the method Change Your Glasses.
If the group wants to continue talking about discrimination and racism, you can implement the method Do Not Act Like Me! which focuses on understanding discrimination, reflecting on your own prejudices and exploring experiences of interpersonal discrimination during everyday life.
Privilege and inequality and how to overcome them make a good drama activity for Forum Theatre. Ask two, three or four people to develop a short role-play of an incident. The rest of the group observe. You can stop the role-play at intervals and ask the audience to comment or to make suggestions about how the role-play should continue. Alternatively, members of the audience can intervene directly to take over from the actors and develop alternative outcomes.
If you do this activity outdoors, make sure that the participants can hear you, especially if you are doing it with a large group! You may need to use your co-facilitators to relay the statements.
In the imagining phase at the beginning, some participants may say that they know little about the life of the person they have to role-play. Tell them this does not matter and to try their best – there are no right or wrong answers.
The power of this activity lies in the impact of actually seeing the distance increasing between the participants, especially at the end when there should be a big distance between those that stepped forward often and those who did not. To enhance the impact, it is important that you adjust the roles to reflect the realities of the participants’ own lives. As you do so, be sure you adapt the roles so that only a minimum of people can take steps forward (i.e. can answer ‘yes’). This also applies if you have a large group and have to devise more roles.
During the debriefing and evaluation, it is important to explore how participants knew about the character whose role they had to play. Was it through personal experience or through other sources of information (news, books, and jokes?) How can they be sure the information and the images they have of these characters are reliable? In this way, you can introduce how stereotypes and prejudice work (e.g. Check Your Privileges!).
This activity is particularly relevant to making links between different types of rights (civil/political and social/economic/cultural rights) and access to them. The problems of poverty and social exclusion are not only a problem of formal rights – although they also exist for refugees and asylum-seekers for example. The problem is very often a matter of effective access to these rights.
Adapted from Council of Europe (2017). Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People. Take a step forward. Strasbourg.