Not Equality, But Equity

IISC EqualityEquity

Addressing and celebrating our differences

Story by Lola Olvera Contributor

Equality’s little sibling, equity, doesn’t get enough attention. Equality is the awe-inspiring word that graces social movement slogans and protest signs.

But although “Everyone should be treated equally sounds great on paper, it’s not the long-term solution to our social ills.

Equality treats everyone the same, carelessly assuming that we are all the same -- that we all have the same wants, needs, backgrounds, experiences and abilities.
Our differences are obvious. A myriad of factors construct our identities and influence our lot in life: socio-economic background, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and gender expression, but none of us begin life with the same opportunities as everyone else.

Say life is a board game and we’re pieces moving across it. Doesn’t starting off in different places and going down different paths make some players more likely to lose? The game starts off fundamentally unfair.

This is where oft-ignored equity steps in. Equity treats people not equally, but fairly, allocating resources to meet the unique needs of those with less advantages in society and a harder time navigating it.

Equality gives everyone stairs while equity remembers to provide ramps for the disabled. Equality lets all children attend school while equity remembers to hire translators for English-learners. Equity gives everyone a more equal shot at life.

Some other examples of equity in action:

The progressive tax system taxes people according to income. Those who earn more pay more and vice versa in an attempt to curb astronomical wealth and abject poverty. According to, the wealth gap in the United States has been increasing for the past 30 years.

A Robin Hood-like progressive tax system can be very effective at reducing income inequality.  Taxes collected from the wealthy can go towards funding programs for low-income or disadvantaged communities.

Affirmative action combats discrimination by encouraging institutions such as schools and workplaces to accept individuals belonging to a discriminated group.

According to the New York Times, since affirmative action was banned in California in 1998, “Hispanic and black enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles dropped sharply.” Several other states, including Texas, Michigan and Washington, experienced similar drops in minority enrollment.

A debate churns over providing free feminine hygiene products, or even just removing the tax on them (a bill California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed this September).  According to Huffington Post calculations, women can spend $1,773.33 a year on tampons alone, a financial burden males do not have to contend with.

Homeless and low-income women are even more deeply affected by this expense. Free and readily available feminine hygiene products can help ease the financial and emotional stresses associated with menstruation and its mishaps.

The privilege-denying powerful champion traditional American values of self-reliance over “government handouts” and “preferential treatment” of minorities (the notorious “reverse racism”), undermining the effects of discrimination that, sadly, can accompany the beautiful diversity of our country.

We may all be fundamentally unequal, but our differences should be addressed and celebrated instead of ignored and exploited. Life may be fundamentally unfair but that doesn’t mean that we should give up on making it a little more fair, both institutionally and interpersonally. Survival of the fittest should not apply to a species with the mental complexity to express compassion. 


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