Equity vs. Equality

“Equality focuses on creating the same starting line for everyone. Equity has the goal of providing everyone with the full range of opportunities and benefits – the same finish line.” ~YWCA Calgary

It’s important to distinguish between equity and equality because these two concepts are different. For the purpose of this section, we are looking at equality and equity from a systemic approach.

Equality is about sharing things equally between all people no matter what their circumstances. Equity realizes that people differ in their resources, abilities, barriers, and experiences, and adjusts for those differences.

Consider that you are serving a lasagna out to a group of people.

  • Equality means that every person gets the same size piece of lasagna, no matter their situation
  • Equity means that the size of the lasagna piece will vary depending on the person: a child might get a smaller piece, someone who has just eaten might get a little morsel, someone who hasn’t eaten in a day might get an extra-large piece.

With equality it’s about equal distribution of the lasagna amongst all people–everyone gets the same sized piece. With equity,  the goal is that everyone gets nourished and alleviates hunger. This means that some people might get more or less lasagna depending on their situation. Equity also avoids the issue of some people eating so much that they need an antacid.

Equity within systems that provide support services means taking into account that many people have suffered oppression and injustice and have experienced multiple barriers. It also recognizes other people have privilege. Equity means that those who have less will get more to make up for past inequalities, as those inequalities eventually create significant barriers. The goal of equity is that we all eventually succeed at the same level.

Equality – treating everyone the same – sounds wonderful in theory. But in practice, when we treat people equally rather than based on their unique situation and need, we ignore the complex barriers that many people face. This includes the impact their experiences, social status and background can have on their access to resources. If we ignore these barriers, then we’re inadvertently reinforcing privilege and feeding into the inequities they experience.

Equity recognizes that not everyone is coming from the same “starting line,” that many face numerous obstacles in their path while others face few,  and tries to provide each person access to the same “finish line.”

The research paper entitled, Social Determinants of Mental Health: Where We Are and Where We Need to Go (Alegria, NeMoyer, Falgus, Wang, Alvarez, 2019), states the following:

Social determinants frameworks build upon the concept of the “social gradient”—that individuals with lower social status have greater health risks and lower life expectancy than those with higher status, and that the impact of social position can accumulate over time. Observed differences in social determinants are thought to develop from unequal distribution of resources; thus, they can be reduced through targeted social and economic policies and programs.

For Reflection

  • What are some barriers that impact equal access to resources, or support?
  • In what ways do you see inequity show up in your community or campus?



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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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