When trying to demonstrate the difference between equity and equality, one image offers a particularly visual representation that captures the essence of the difference in an instant.
The image is a cartoon designed by artist Angus Maguire, that illustrates the difference between the two concepts by showing a side-by-side comparison of three people of varying heights watching a baseball match over a fence.
The first side of the cartoon illustrates equality and shows the three people standing on equal-sized crates, leaving the shortest person unable to see the game and the tallest person with the most advantage. Next to that, illustrating equity, the cartoon shows each person standing on the amount of crates that they actually need in order to easily watch the baseball game.
It’s an image that’s often shown in classrooms and at office team training sessions that best describes the difference between the two concepts without the use of words. While Maguire’s cartoon is a simple yet powerful demonstration, it leaves these questions unanswered: how do you define equity and equality using words? And why is it so important to know the difference between them?
Inequity or inequality are embedded in the world’s most pertinent issues, and understanding the difference between the two concepts is important for overall global development, and creating a world where the most vulnerable are protected and supported most effectively.
What’s the difference between equity and equality?
Equality essentially means providing everyone with the same amount of resources regardless of whether everyone needs them. In other words, each person receives an equal share of resources despite what they already have, or don’t have.
Equity is when resources are shared based on what each person needs in order to adequately level the playing field.
What key facts should people know about these concepts?
- You can’t achieve equality without implementing equity.
- Inequality and inequity affect almost all of the United Nations’ Global Goals.
Why is it important to know the difference between them?
While they have two entirely different meanings, equity and equality work hand-in-hand and cannot be achieved without the other. Understanding the difference between the two brings us one step closer to achieving equality as the final outcome.
This means that in order for the world to reach a place where everything is fair, just, and equal, we need to prioritize equity and distribute resources based on who needs them most. In other words, to reach equality as an outcome, we have to tackle the causes of inequity within major issues.
Take vaccine nationalism as an example, where richer countries are hoarding more than enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate their populations, despite poorer countries not having vaccines to begin with.
The fact that some countries will have more vaccines than others is an example of inequality in health care. The inequity lies in the fact that richer countries have the resources to acquire vaccines, whereas poorer countries do not.
Reaching a place where all countries have enough vaccines would be achieving equality. In order to get there, richer countries have to share their resources with those in need and this act would be achieving equity.
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.
Another example of where we can use equity to achieve overall equality is in the argument of "Black lives matter" vs "all lives matter".
While all lives have always mattered, Black lives have consistently been considered less important than others for centuries, resulting in Black people facing persistent struggles in their everyday lives because of this massive inequality.
In order for us to reach an outcome where all lives can truly matter equally, Black lives need to be protected and supported in an equitable manner.
What issues do equity and equality affect most?
There are evident inequalities globally in race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, education, economic status, and so much more. The lack of equity is at the core of so many global issues and understanding this is important to achieving overall equality as an outcome.
We shouldn’t be aiming to treat people or distribute resources equally, we should aim to do so equitably in order to reach equality. For example, we cannot close the gender pay gap without tackling the inequity that is caused by men being considered more valuable than women in society. Similarly, we cannot defeat racial inequalities without approaching the inequity that considers people of color as lesser than white people.
How do they both relate to ending global poverty?
Ending poverty for all means striving for justice and fairness, and this can only be done if we demand equity. Poverty is caused by deep inequalities, and is deepened by situations where the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer.
By distributing resources such as food, water, wealth, and more, as well as treating people equitably, we can bring poverty to an end and create a world that is truly equal.
What action can we all take to achieve equity?
Educate yourself on what major inequalities there are in the world and how they affect your community. Knowing where the issues lie is important to understanding how to tackle them. You can do this by reading the news, researching social issues, and speaking to activists and community leaders in different spaces.
Demanding equity is also at the core of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World campaign and mission to end poverty for all, you can join us and demand equity across multiple issues by taking action here.