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There’s a picture in two frames explaining the equity vs equality conundrum. Picture this; a man, a boy, and a toddler are standing behind a fence on boxes watching a baseball game.
Equality says give all three one box each, the same height. While standing on the boxes, the adult man remains the tallest, and then the boy and then the toddler. The man can see over the fence, the boy can too but the small child cannot.
Equity gives the man no box, the boy one box, and the toddler two boxes and now, everyone can see over the fence.
Equality seeks to treat everyone the same, ignoring their unique differences and the possibility of privilege. In doing so, privileged people gain additional advantages while people who are already disadvantaged remain the same. Equity, at the surface level, appears to be the logical alternative. It takes everyone’s differences and privileges or lack thereof into consideration and then helps each person accordingly.
It is common to see why many people canvas for equity as opposed to equality. However, we must consider why the boxes were even needed in the first place in our scenario. It was because of the fence. The fence was the obstacle.
The equality vs equity discussion cannot be divorced from feminism. What do we want?
Though ‘Gender Equality’ translates into equal outcomes for women, men, and gender-diverse people, there’s no way that can be achieved if not for ‘Gender Equity’. This is where it is recognized that women and gender-diverse people are not in the same ‘starting position’ as men.
Equality says we want to be treated the same as men. Equity says we want to fill the gap, to balance the disparity that the patriarchy has wedged, keeping women subjugated and oppressed. In the removal of the fence, we upend the patriarchy and other such oppressive systems in their entirety, killing the need for any equalisers. This way, it becomes an even playing field.
Due to historical and social disadvantages, the equal treatment of women and men does not indicate fairness, it can generate further impediments to the movement.
It’s no secret that society has not been good to women, especially women of color. They constantly fight for the rights conferred upon men naturally; the right to vote, work, and more recently, the right to bodily autonomy have been pressing issues in social discourse over time. While straight, white women may envision that oppression starts and ends with their struggles, the privileges accorded to them could be blinding, allowing them to oppress others because they fail to see how they are a beneficiary of the existing systems.
The only way to eliminate such barriers is to guide the general mindset away from gender equality to one of gender equity. Gender equality concentrates on providing men and women with equal opportunities (such as the rights to own land and an education), gender equity strives to rectify the historical injustices that have left women behind (such as societal restrictions on employment).
Gender equity also means that women should be given the tools and the appropriate environment to succeed. This can be introduced to society through laws and policies and gender-focused policies that level the playing field as well as encouraging a culture of supporting women.
In addition to this, inter-gender conversations need to be held as equity alone cannot adequately quell this age-long problem simply by giving women added advantages. Poor women suffer from capitalistic exploitation, members of the LGBT+ community experience homophobia and transphobia, women living with disabilities are oppressed by ableist systems, and so on.
Though women may have similar struggles, the intersection of oppression includes varying demographics. Black women and white women both suffer from misogyny but white women actively oppress black women via racism. Cisgender heterosexual women may have misogyny in common with lesbian and transgender women but may never understand the nuance of homophobia and transphobia.
We need to remove the systems that continue to oppress us in conjunction with the patriarchy. Equity may help make life more tolerable for women as a collective, but as long as these systems (that is, the fence) continue to exist, oppression is inevitable.
Now, picture this, the man, boy, and child standing to watch the football game without the needless obstacle that is the fence.