Being able to apply human rightsIntercultural CompetenceSkill to encourage reflection on human rights related issuesSupports learners' reflection on issues such as solidarity, social justice, promotion and protection of human rights

Equality or Equity?

The term equality has been around for a long time and has been used for many political and social campaigns. However, this term promotes treating everyone in the same way, so if we give someone an apple then we should give everyone an apple. But this assumes that people are equal, that they have the exact same abilities and needs and circumstances, which is not the case in reality. In this article, we will discuss the differences between people and how that affects the quantity of the available resources for them and the quality of their life. Education will be taken as an example to show the effects of these aspects in this area.

Why did I choose this tool?

The difference between equality and equity has been a source of frustration and wonderment for me. On the surface, I am a highly educated person that should have multiple opportunities to choose from. But the reality is quite different than that, because of my nationality and the country in which I received my education. So, although my educational level may be equal to or higher than others in Europe, my actual opportunities are not. This led me to thoroughly investigate the difference between equality and equity, and what needs to be done to fill this gap for those who find themselves in similar circumstances.

How does this apply to being a trainer?

Differentiating between key terms in human rights, equality and equity, and being able to give examples that participants can relate to, is key when trying to convey its meaning. If a trainer loosely uses terms like equality, in a situation where there is no equity and the participant is aware of this, they can easily lose the trust and engagement of the participant who will feel that the trainer only knows these concepts in theory but doesn’t understand their reality. This is why understanding the theoretical and practical differences between equality and equity is essential for any trainer dealing with this or similar topics.

Main content:

Many assumptions are based on the notion of equality, and the education field is the same. We think that because someone has had an education that it is ok and they could (or should) be able to find a good job opportunity and a proper career path. However, the difference in the quality and style of education received to play a major role in this. This has left many people in the developing countries overeducated yet unable to find a proper job opportunity, creating a gap in the understanding of equality between people in the developed countries and those in developing countries. For someone in Germany, it can be a straight forward process, whereas for someone in Iraq it can be quite complicated because the available education options are very limited and the choice of education (regardless of the type and quality) is still better than no education.

“The economic and social transformations of the last half-century – rising economic insecurity, growing socio-economic segregation, the collapse of the low income family, the unraveling of working-class neighborhoods, and the decline of a collective sense of responsibility for “our kids” – have created a perfect storm of plummeting prospects for the next generation” (Gibson, 2016). Even though the author was talking about America, the same issue of opportunity gap is present globally, which refers to the inputs—the unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities (Glossary of Education Reform, 2013). The fate of millions of people is being decided based on the ZIP of where they were born. We have those who were born in developed countries (let’s call them group A), who have access to great schools and universities and career support resources. They can choose what to be or what to do in their life if they use the right resources which are already available for them. On the other hand, we have those who are born in less developed or poor countries (group B), who have access to poor education (if any) and little to no resources to speak of that can support their growth and development. Those people have only a few limited choices in life. Even if they have a university education, they wouldn’t necessarily be on equal footings with those from group A.

The above leads to another type of gap which is called “the global achievement gap”, which refers to outputs — the unequal or inequitable distribution of educational results and benefits (Glossary of Education Reform, 2013). If we make a general comparison with what a person from group A accomplished of achieved by the age of 25 with a person from group B by the same age, assuming that both had access to education and have acquired a university degree, we will notice several – below the surface differences – that are normally ignored or overlooked because of the complexity of taking it into consideration. This achievement gap is already being noticed and seen between people in developing countries, so we can only imagine how big that gap is between developing and developed countries.

What ends up happening, in reality, is that those from group A will have an excess of resources, even though they already start their lives with a head start advantage, whereas those from group B would have a strong lack of resources even though they are already at a disadvantage. The question here is what can be done for group B people? There are many examples on the internet on how people struggle in everyday life in developing and poor countries, the constant worry about their own survival has a much higher priority than the additional or extracurricular activities which might be one of the very limited options to “get noticed” and have a better opportunity. However, these extra activities are what the accredited universities look for when making an admission decision for someone from group B because they believe that this can help to make up for the gap in quality in their education.

To work towards a better global society, equality alone is not enough. “Fixing the systematic obstacles requires us to be more intentional, but the extra work pays off” (Sun, 2016). In education it is called “differentiated instruction”, and we need that in the real world too, nowadays even more so. We need to recognize the needs of individuals and change our actions to fit those needs. For a biker, the roads are dangerous. Not intentionally. Most drivers are not trying to be jerks. It’s just that the traffic rules and road system simply wasn’t made to work for both cars and bikes to coexist peacefully. Cars and bikes are different. And the truth is that the whole transportation infrastructure privileges the automobile (Dowsett, 2016). While it is nice when drivers make sure that a passing biker can go through peacefully and smoothly, this only applies to those bikers who were lucky to come across those “nice” drivers and the fact that at that time and place those drivers were aware of the problem. However, it would be far more efficient and consistent if this issue was addressed in the system design itself.

Therefore, although the term Equity is used alongside Equality, Equity goes a step further and refers to offering varying levels of support depending upon the need to achieve greater fairness of outcomes (, 2018). An example of equity is Affirmative Action Policies (a.k.a “reservation” and “quotas” for certain marginalized sections of society, like decisions by companies to consciously look for a female director for their board that is composed of all men). The following picture illustrates the difference between Equality and Equity.

On an oval track, the outer lanes are actually longer than the inner lanes. If everyone started at the same place, some would have to run farther than others. So, naturally, we start runners at different places along the track (Kuttner, 2016).

However, rather than trying to make individual exceptions (like the bikers in the transportation system example), we should try and address the cause of the inequity altogether. Of course, this is easier said than done, but part of the solution is the awareness of the problem. Below is an illustration of what is mentioned in this paragraph (, 2018):

Reflection questions:

    • When was the last time I remember seeing equality as insufficient in a particular situation?
    • What other examples I can find for equity practices?
    • How do Equality and Equity relate to Justice? Does one relate more than the other?


How to apply it in everyday life:

Usually, we are just unaware of my own privileges, because the system generally works in our favor. When you see in the different media news about people with fewer resources, struggling for survival in everyday life. Try to look within and identify your own privileges, then think about what you can contribute to bridging this gap between the privileged and the unprivileged.

Author of the article: Aws Sabah Gheni Al-Adhami

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Editor: Leilani van Rheenen

has been active in youth work, training and coaching since 2008. Her specialty is emotional intelligence, emotional fitness, since it is the primary ingredient in competences such as inter-cultural competence, learning to learn, cooperating successfully in teams, etc. Leilani’s contribution will combine the information and methods she has created with the vast array of tried and tested materials available. Leilani has developed herself as a trainer from the Salto training for trainers, but also from renowned coaches and authors, and adapted methods learned from these sources to meet the needs of youth workers.

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Bookmark (0)
(2018). Equality-vs-EquityDowsett, J. (2016, 9 14). equality-is-not-enoughGibson, K. (2016). The American Dream is evaporating for over 25 million children born in the last generation. a project of The Saguaro Seminar. Harvard Kennedy School.Glossary of Education Reform. (2013, 12 19). achievement-gapKuttner, P. (2016, 10 29). the-problem-with-that-equity-vs-equality-graphicSun, A. (2016, 9 14). equality-is-not-enough

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