It’s that time of the year again – from corporates to NGOs - there is a palpable energy in the air as celebrations line up for International Women’s Day in March 2023. As we all work towards this milestone month, it is imperative to understand the annual theme to drive actionable plans.
But, what is equity? The words equality and equity are interchangeably used – however, do they mean the same? Let’s imagine this scenario:
Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
In the first scenario, all participants are given the same resources to accomplish a task – this is equality. In the second scenario, participants’ needs and constraints are identified to provide tailored resources and an inclusive environment – this is equity.
Why is this important? Policies rooted in equality have helped women make great strides historically e.g the right for women to vote in the US in 1920. However, a one size fits all solution does not cater to all issues faced by women – this is because identity is intersectional.
Now, what does that mean? Intersectionality is a framework and term coined by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw – she explains that “our identities are like traffic flowing at an intersection – one identity may flow in one direction while another identity is flowing in a different direction” (Crenshaw, 1989).
Let’s take an example of two women, Sarah and Emily – both identify as women. Emily was supported by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to put her through school – she worked hard and finally earned a scholarship to a local university; she and her mother are also estranged from her father due to domestic abuse. Sarah comes from a wealthy family – both parents own a successful business and were able to afford an international education from a well-reputed university.
If we were to apply the lens of equality in this scenario, the goal would be to provide both women with similar resources e.g perhaps, financial aid for all women to study overseas. However, the equity lens will show that individual support for her single mother and family may be needed in addition to financial aid e.g. flexible working hours and annual leaves for her mother, stable housing opportunities, emergency support for domestic abuse, etc.
Different segments of our identities influence our experiences in the world – including opportunities, threats and biases. In order to truly achieve equity, it is important to recognize and apply the framework of intersectionality to identify hidden forms of discrimination and champion targeted initiatives for different segments of women in our society.
Join me this year in embracing equity – let’s work towards true inclusion by providing opportunities to those who have been institutionally marginalized. Equity is our social responsibility – will you rise to the challenge? What action will you take?
This article is part of the Social Impact column by the Social Impact subcommittee that focuses on social causes concerning women and children. Click here to learn more about the subcommittee and its initiatives.
Author: Nithya Karthikeyan