There are two words in our society that often used interchangeably: Equality and Equity. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines equality as ” the state of being equal, of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as an another”, and equity as ” dealing fairly and equally with all concerned”. At first glance, you might read both these definitions and think that they mean the same thing. However, as you dig deeper, you’ll soon find that much like effect and affect, the two words (and their derivatives) should not and cannot be used interchangeably.
In application, equality is when everyone is given access to the exact same resources. Equity on the other hand, is when resources are distributed based on the needs of the individuals receiving them. In the image shown above, we can see that on the left side there are three identical boxes given to three people of different heights. This is an illustration of equality because there is an equal distribution of resources or in this case, boxes. However, as you take a closer look at the image, you can clearly see that the tallest person does not need a box to watch the game over the fence, but the shortest person could clearly use an extra box. On the right side of the image, we see an illustration of equity because each person receives the number boxes they need to watch the game over the fence. When the boxes are redistributed equitably, all three people can have a good time and watch the game.
You might be thinking,
” Well this is great and all, but why does it matter? Both definitions seem to achieve a common goal.”
While there is some truth to this, we have to realize that being able to recognize the difference between equality and equity is not simply in grammar alone. Understanding the difference between these two words is important in all major aspects of our lives. From public health to education and racial justice, when applied in these contexts, equality and equity can mean very different things. As George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health explains, if every public school in the county receives 150 new laptops, that is technically equal. But it does not factor in that some of those schools might be located in districts with high economic status and high-level resources where most of the students probably already have their own laptops. Equity would be allocating these new laptops to schools which have the greatest need for them. In this way, we minimize the chance that dozens of laptops will end up being useless at one school, while another doesn’t have enough to go around.
In healthcare, equality would be everyone having access to the basic level of care needed to be healthy. Equity would be individuals receiving the level of care that they need to achieve their best health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), equity is defined as “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.” This means that health inequities go beyond unequal access to resources needed to maintain or improve health outcomes, and can involve more systematic issues that infringe on fairness and human rights norms. When it comes to healthcare, understanding the difference between health equality and health equity ensures that resources are directed appropriately and are meeting the needs of individuals at the level that they need it. Providing the same type and number of resources to all is not enough nor is it effective. To address the health disparities we see across cities, provinces, and nations, we must know when to apply equality and when to apply equity. Only then can we truly confront the underlying issues and individual needs of underserved and vulnerable populations.
“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”–Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute 1
As our organization expands our work, we believe that understanding how to apply equality vs equity is important to be able to address the healthcare needs of the communities in Guatemala and Grenada. We aim to not only work alongside these communities in providing equitable resources but we also hope to raise awareness and provide education on the specific inequities these communities face. We understand that we can’t just aim for equality by dividing resources in matching amounts, but that we must strive for equity and focus on dividing resources proportionally to achieve a fair outcome for all. As we learn more about the importance of equality vs equity, we hope that you will join us in the understanding of this topic and continue to support us as we advocate for change in our world!
Together we can make an impact on the health of the nations and the generations to come.
The mission of WHEF is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala and Grenada. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.