Q&A: Equality vs equity

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re cogitating about equality and equity when all things are not equal…

Q: Hi AWC, I have a question that came up during International Women’s Day last week.

A: We already told you that we don’t know when Wonder Woman 2 is coming out.

Q: No it’s not that. It was about the difference between the words “equality” and “equity”

A: Ah, now that IS a good question.

Q: Are they interchangeable?

A: Some think so, but no. They have quite different meanings.

Q: Okay.

A: “Equality” is all about things being equal.

Q: Well duh.

A: It’s generally a “quantitative” thing – the sort of things that can be counted, such as women deserving pay equality in the same role. It can move into more broad areas too however, such as when discussing social equality – or more likely, social inequality.

Q: So “equality” is about everything being the same for everyone?

A: That’s right – the same in measure, esteem or value.

Q: So what is “equity” then?

A: Well rather than promoting things being equal for everyone, “equity” is about things being FAIR and JUST for everyone.

Q: But isn’t “equality” all about fairness and justice too?

A: It can be, but sometimes that’s only true if everyone starts from the same place. Equity meanwhile, aims to bring everyone UP to the same place.

Q: Ahhh okay. So maybe when people use the word “equality”, sometimes they should be using “equity”?

A: That’s right. Another example – gender equality is about women having the same things as men. But gender EQUITY is about fair treatment of men and women, according to their respective needs. It’s a fine, but important, line.

Q: So that baseball game fence image above sums it up then?

A: Well, yes – and no.

Q: I sure hope the fence YOU’RE sitting on is comfortable.

A: Allow us to explain. While the image does a great job at simplifying the differences, many think it suggests that the people themselves are to blame for their situation (i.e. being too short), when often it’s their circumstances or lack of opportunities compared to others.

Q: Example?

A: Think about Australians living in remote locations. Rather than suggest they are inferior or the problem, it’s actually their situation that limits access to services. In that case, the image above could be changed.

Q: To what?

A: For starters, all three people should be the same height and it’s the ground itself that should slope away making it difficult for the second and third person to see over the fence. It’s a subtle, but important difference in the discussion of treating people as equals.

Q: Toto, we’re not in grammar chat anymore…

A: Haha, fair point. We’re getting a little off topic – but you get the idea.

Q: We do! And wait, shouldn’t those three have bought a ticket to watch that baseball game, like everyone else?

A: Oh, um, good point.

Q: Time for a recap. Equality is giving everyone four slices of pizza each, whereas equity is providing a fair distribution of pizza based on who is hungriest.

A: Including gluten free options.

Q: Yes, of course. So one more thing – I hear the word “equity” used a lot in money circles.

A: They’re called coins.

Q: No, not THOSE money circles. I’m talking about equity in share trading – is it related to this?

A: No, it’s not. It’s just another meaning for the same word – “stocks and shares not bearing fixed interest”.

Q: I certainly think my interest in this topic is starting to fade. But you have successfully answered my question.

A: Glad that we were equal to the task.

Q: Time to equit while you’re ahead?

A: That was bad. Let’s leave before the readers start throwing things…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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