Most people use the words equality and equity interchangeably, but their definitions are a little more nuanced than people generally realise.. How? I’m glad you asked!
When we think of equality, we think of everyone being treated the same. Everyone on the same footing. In reality, equality often, assumes that everybody is starting on equal footing. The idea behind equality is noble and just, however, simply treating every person the same, may not always be the most ethical thing to do.
A simple way to describe this, is using the division of resources as an example. The picture above is a good visual representation of this. Another way I like to think of it is this:
Let’s say hypothetically you have a very good friend who often spends the night at your house. After a while you both decided they should keep a tooth brush at your house. Then one day you invite another friend to stay the night, and when it comes time for bed, you offer both of these people a tube of toothpaste so they can brush their teeth, expecting them both to do so.
Technically you have offered them both the same thing in this hypothetical situation, however one person can’t do anything with the toothpaste, as they have not built that kind of friendship with you and don’t have a toothbrush they can use. Equality, at surface level, overlooks prior privileges, sweat equity and vested interest.
Equity, is more like the division of resources based on the need of individuals. Equity is used all the time for things like the division of funding for different Government departments based on need.
An example of this could be, given the current climate in 2020, with the COVID-19 global pandemic, let’s say the government has five research divisions to fund, and they have $10,000,000 to do so – and lets say these research divisions are:
– Earthworm research;
– Cancer research;
– Research into making a better whiteboard marker;
– Research into what happens when apples are electrocuted; and
– COVID-19 vaccine research.
Would you be satisfied with the Governments decision to “equally” distribute the funding so that each received $2,000,000, or would you think it would be more appropriate for the funding to be divided between cancer research and COVID-19 research?
Surely the funding to figure out what happens when an apple is electrocuted, is just as important as finding out how to stop a deadly virus claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, right?
I’ve intentionally made most of these options very silly to help drive this point home. It’s possible for something to be both equal and equitable, but it’s also possible for something to be equal, but not equitable. In order for something to be fair and just, you need to tick both of the boxes.
Where people start getting a little more temperamental about the use of equity over equality, is where they perceive they are getting “less” than somebody else, and that in some way, the person receiving “more” is not deserving.
An example of this, is one person receiving more Government benefits than another. People will often view the person receiving “more” as unfairly privileged. Maybe they will think they are “working the system” or “lazy”. There are tonnes of reasons why somebody might be entitled to more from the Government. If you have a person who is single with no children and has good health, should they be entitled to the exact same amount as somebody who has a chronic illness and a child with expensive medical bills?
Everyone’s’ situation is different, and there should be considerations made for those differences, privileges and draw backs. When there are considerations and adaptations based on this, then you know something is equitable.