To understand equity vs equality, which one is more important, we need adequate knowledge of what these similar-looking terms actually mean, in the context of our society, apart from their definition.
Equality is more commonly associated with social issues, perhaps because more people know what it means. Its definition is as it sounds–the state of being equal. When a group focuses on equality, everyone has the same rights, opportunities, and resources. Equality is beneficial, but it often doesn’t address specific needs
Equity, on the other hand, provides people with resources that fit their circumstances. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of social equity is “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people.” Equity is the distribution of resources according to the needs of people.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘equitable’ as “dealing fairly and equally with all concerned” while it defines ‘equal’ as “of the same measure, quantity, amount, or numbers as another.” Let’s delve deep to understand more about these terms.
Equality is giving exactly the same resources to everyone, while Equity is giving everyone the resources that they need. Equity is the distribution of resources according to need. Different people are going to need various resources, which may or may not be equal.
For example, see the illustration above, there are three people who have different height, and one of them is disabled. Now, if these three people are given three identical boxes to watch a match, can all of them watch it? Though it is an equal distribution of resources, only one person out of three will be able to watch the match because the other two have different needs. One person needs more boxes because her height is less, and another needs a ramp because he is in a wheelchair. The diverse needs of these people are also shown above. Giving different resources to all three people above is equity, and that is the best solution, not equality.
Though the above example is a very simplistic illustration of equity vs equality, the same debate, and different needs of people in real social life is not that easy.
Equity vs Equality in Education:
Understanding equity vs equality is most important when it comes to education. You must have heard of financial assistance for low-income students, low cut-off, merit, and reservations for students coming from socially backward classes and tribes. You must have also come across(if you are not the one) people who say that this is an in-equal treatment by the college administration. People who claim that assisting poor students financially or admitting students coming from backward classes at lower merit than others is an in-equal treatment do not understand equity. They don’t also understand equality completely.
Low-income students are given financial assistance because they need it. Not all students come from an affluent background. Many students who are the first generation to graduation come from families who struggle to survive daily. These students and their families cannot bear the fee of higher education and, if not given financial assistance, they are more likely to drop out.
In fact, disadvantages for low-income students go beyond financial assistance. They face discrimination from the day they are born based on their income. They go to schools which have less-qualified teachers and give near to none exposure. They hardly ever go on educational tours, picnic, or traveling, which again restricts their exposure to the world. They don’t get access to laboratories, computers, libraries, and good books, which restricts their intelligence. They face malnutrition because of money, which affects not only their physical health but also mental health. They face obstacles beginning from childhood.
Now how can you expect them to compete with students who have high-earning parents and have got access to the best education and educators? In fact, even after getting financial assistance from college and studying in the same class as other rich students, low-income students feel inferior because of their background.
For students coming from backward classes who have reservations and get admission at a lower cut-off, it is even more difficult. They face discrimination for coming from a particular class and caste. Caste-based discrimination, which begins with their birth, continues till death irrespective of their financial situations. In India, every year, many low-caste students take their lives just because of this discrimination which they face in their college and universities. They face this every day in almost all fields of their lives- from school to college to society to work. This instills the inferiority complex in them irrespective of their financial conditions.
In America, African-American students, regardless of their social class – suffer from racial discrimination as a result of 250 years of slavery. The history of discrimination has resulted in an inferior education for minority students.
Girls in many countries face discrimination based on their gender. Many girls never go to school because parents give priority to their sons when it comes to education. A few percentages of girls reach college and universities. In these scenarios, it is essential for governments that they give additional perks to girl students in order to increase their level of participation in higher education.
First-generation college students have limited access to high-quality academic experiences and often lack the support and knowledge needed to figure out the college admissions and financial aid processes. Because they are the first in their family to attend college, processes and policies that many of us assume very simple may become stumbling blocks that may cause them to have an inferior college experience or even drop out.
Why It’s Important to Understand Equity vs Equality in Schools?
Understanding equity vs equality can help us in creating an inclusive classroom. The absence of an inclusive classroom affects students based on race, gender, and many other factors. It is important for schools to solve them. Now the issue is, How? How to fix solve this?
When it comes to equity vs equality in the classroom, most schools focus on horizontal equity. Horizontal equity is treating people who are already assumed equal in the same way. The idea here is because people assume that students in a classroom are equal, but the reality is different. Students in a classroom come from different backgrounds – financially and socially – some more privileged than others. That’s why it’s important that educators should focus on vertical equity. Vertical equity is assuming that people have different needs and, therefore, should be provided with different needed resources.
Another way to make an inclusive classroom is teaching students inclusiveness and making them aware of equity vs equality. Teaching upper-caste students about the history of discrimination low-caste students face can stop them from discriminating with them. Teaching white students about the history of slavery and racism can make white students more empathetic towards them and can also save minority students from feeling inferior. Though it is very important that while teaching students equity vs equality, educators must not be racist, sexist, or someone who increases discriminatory behavior because that may have the opposite effect on students.
It is seen that schools that prioritize equity vs equality and inclusiveness understand the needs of their students better and provide resources to overcome their specific challenges.
Some other tips to achieve equity in education:
- Understanding a student’s individual challenges and offering tailored support.
- Fostering a supportive environment where students feel comfortable to speak up and can express their needs.
- Discussing equity vs equality with students
- Openly communicating with parents and guardians of students
- Adding exercises that promote inclusion and diversity in activities so everyone feels like they belong
- Never overlook complaints regarding discrimination
- Organizing equity training for educators and students
Equity vs Equality in Work:
Understanding equity vs equality is very important for the workplace as it can help solve many issues related to employees and their performances. Any employer must be deliberately conscious about issues of gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, language, and disability while framing policies of the company and work culture.
Any discrimination in the workplace not only affects employees but also affects the company. An environment that does not discriminate offers equal access, and opportunities to all always prove good for both – the employees and the employer.
Companies that value equity attracts more talent, retain employees longer, and employ a more diverse workforce. By equitable practices, one can ensure a great future for a company and can also help society in achieving workplace equality for all.
Actions to ensure equity in the workplace:
- Host diversity and inclusion training
- Establish measurable high-level diversity and inclusion initiatives and create an action plan to achieve them.
- Create Employee Resource Groups that allow employees to connect and share experiences with their co-workers.
- Ensure company benefits are equitable. (For example, giving work flexibility to parents or giving a choice of opting for period leaves to female workers.)
- Offer various special need-based assistance for employees with disabilities, language barriers, or mental health needs.
- Train hiring managers on equitable candidate evaluations.
- Ensure hiring panel to be diverse in gender and race.
- Offer gender-neutral restrooms.
- Ensure eliminating discriminatory handbook language.
- Making people aware of equity vs equality.
Equity vs Equality in Society:
Equity is also very important in society in general. After all, education and the workplace are also part of society. Though apart from these two, there are different ways in a society in which equity vs equality manifests itself.
Today’s staggering level of inequality, which has made equity more important, is not something accidental or natural. It is a reflection of intentional systems of oppression established in the past that continues today to privileged people in very different ways.
Driving Equity and justice isn’t about tinkering with systems that just ended up being imbalanced, but it’s about dismantling oppressive systems that are working exactly as they were designed. That’s why people who benefit from these systems think that equality is being denied to them when equity is preferred. To achieve justice, we must be open to change that can be deeply radical and transformative.
Actions which can ensure equity in society:
1. Affirmative action – To ensure equity in equity vs equality, affirmative action is proved pretty effective. Affirmative action is the policy of explicitly favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination. It’s a type of positive discrimination that aims to counter the effects of traditional negative discrimination that a segment of the population tends to suffer.
For example, In India, public universities or government agencies have some reserved seats for people coming from backward classes. These policies violate the principle of equality but ensure equity. If the policy treated all candidates equally, people from backward classes would never come ahead. Many universities around the world use affirmative action policies to ensure diverse classrooms and equity.
2. Taxes – Another way to ensure equity in society is through a progressive tax system. Most countries follow progressive tax system, which means that people who earn more pays more tax.
For example, a person who earns billions every year have the ability to pay high taxes in comparison to a person who earns a few thousand and struggles to meet month ends. A flat income tax of 10% or 20% would be equal but not equitable because people with higher incomes have a higher ability to pay.
So, a progressive tax system is considered more equitable.
3. Women friendly policies – Studies have shown that career growth for many women stalls when taking time off from work after childbirth. Women who resign because of pregnancy find it difficult to re-enter the workforce a few years later.
Even in normal circumstances, women get paid less than men with the same job profile. Apart from the barriers that women face because of their biological differences, they do a lot of unpaid work at their homes. All of this requires greater equity for women.
Women should be provided with lactation rooms for nursing mothers. Many companies provide extended maternity and paternity leave for their employee. Many nations even have mandatory maternity leave.
4. Disable friendly policies – People with disabilities find it hard to live among with normal people because of their disabilities. Many countries have laws that prohibit discrimination with people based on disability. Public universities and jobs in India have reserved seats for people with disabilities.
Many nations even have laws that make it mandatory for offices to be disable friendly. For example, offices must have ramps that allow people with disabilities to go in and out of the office independently. When you provide reasonable accommodations, you let people with disabilities fully participate in society.
Sometimes, some business groups criticize such accommodations because they can add to the cost of constructing a building. However, without such measures ], it would be extremely difficult for people with certain disabilities to participate in society fully, and it will also increase discrimination with them, pushing them at margins.
Which One is More Important?
From the above discussion about equity vs equality, we can see that while the principle of equality is important, equity is more important. We must realize that in our society, apart from the fact that everyone is different and have different needs, there are groups who have been wronged for centuries. Groups who have face discrimination for centuries and still face it in one way or another.
Giving everyone equal access to opportunities can only be just in a society where no past history of discrimination exists, or no social-economic gap exists. In a society like ours, which has so much diversity, equity is needed more than anything. Equity is needed to bring Equality.
Equity is the idea of “leveling the playing field” so that fairness happens along the path to success. Without equity, there will be no equality, and people at a disadvantage historically will always remain at a disadvantage, and society will never grow as a whole. So, inequity vs equality, equity is much better.