While the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ sound similar on hearing or reading it for the first time, they are conceptually different from one another. What is the main difference? Equality refers to the fact that each individual or group of people is given the same opportunities or resources. On the other hand, Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and situations, therefore, allocates appropriate resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
One of the most common examples used to differentiate between equality & equity is a cartoon designed by artist Angus Maguire, that illustrates the difference between the two concepts. It is a picture of 3 people watching a match. One is very tall, the other medium and the last one is very short. In one picture it can be seen that three boxes are used to help them stand and get a better view of the match while in the other picture, the one in medium height gets a box & the shorter one gets a better box so that all three people reach the same height to watch the match.
Equality is giving all three people boxes, irrespective of their heights. The tall person was already tall enough to view the match while the shortest one couldn’t see the match even with a box since it was not big enough for him. Likewise, although giving equal opportunities is great, some tend to benefit over the rest. People with privilege already have opportunities and resources that may not be affordable/ acquirable but for those who are less fortunate so in the pretext of giving “equal” opportunities, one might actually end up making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
On the other side of the picture, the tall person did not receive a box since he was already tall enough to view the match from an optimal height. The medium-sized person was given a box that was big enough to view the match and it matched the height of the tall person while the short person was given a much bigger box to match both their heights. Finally, all three reached the same height so that they could see the cricket match properly and enjoy it. Hence, equity here gives resources and opportunities to those who need it the most to make it an equal level playing field.
The question is: how does one truly define equity and equality and why is it so important to know the difference between them?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), equity is defined as “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that “Equality means ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.”
In order for the world to live in a utopian state or rather reach a place where everything is fair, just, and equal, as citizens, we need to prioritize equity and distribute resources based on who needs them most. Therefore in order to reach equality as an outcome, we need to tackle it with equity.
For instance, with the COVID 19 Pandemic, Many first world, rich nations hoarded more COVID-19 vaccines to immunize their populations, despite poorer countries not having access to vaccines, to begin with. Even though they needed it more, their lack of resources and accessibility added with the greed of the rich nation made it extremely difficult for successful vaccination drives.
The fact that some countries have more access to better health care facilities and vaccines than others is an example of inequality in the health care system, which is a common problem all over the world. The main cause for this inequality lies in the fact that richer countries have better and more resources to acquire vaccines, whereas poorer countries do not.
An instance of reaching equality would be allocating resources in an appropriate manner so that all countries have enough vaccines to help stay safe as a global community all across the world. In order to get there, richer countries would have to share their resources with those in need and this act would be helpful in achieving equity, therefore a more equal world.
Without equity, inequality will persist and those who are most vulnerable will remain or become even more vulnerable; in contrast to those who are already most fortunate becoming even more so.
“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”
— Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute