Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

International Women’s Day: What’s the difference between equity and equality?

International Women’s Day: Giving women equal rights is not enough in itself to close the 132-year global gender gap.

International Women’s Day: Giving women equal rights is not enough in itself to close the 132-year global gender gap. Image: Unsplash/Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity.
  • Although equity and equality are often used interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing. Equality is the end goal – equity is how you get there.
  • Giving women equal rights is not enough in itself to close the 132-year global gender gap.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #EmbraceEquity. But what exactly is equity?

It’s often used interchangeably with equality, but they are not the same thing. And it’s important to understand the differences – and to value both concepts.

What is the difference between equality and equity?

The graphic below is a helpful visual aid to understanding the difference between equity and equality.

Graphic displaying the difference between equity and equality. International Women’s Day
Creating equal and fair outcomes relies on recognizing that everyone starts from a different place. Image: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/International Women’s Day

Equality means that we treat everyone equally - each person or group of people is given the same resources and opportunities. Equity means that we provide resources and opportunities that fit the specific needs or circumstances of that person or group, and in that way, we can reach an equal outcome.

So, although we often seek ‘equal opportunities’, this can in fact lead to exclusion rather than inclusion. The same bike doesn’t fit everyone. Enabling each person to ride relies on giving them a bike that fits their needs.

Put another way, equality is about being equal in status, rights and opportunities, whereas equity is about how we get there through fairness and impartiality. Equality sets the ground rules for creating a fair playing field, but it needs equity to make sure that everyone can compete on that field.

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Tamara Makoni, inclusion specialist and CEO of Kazuri Consulting

What does equity mean for women’s rights and opportunities?

Once you understand the difference between equity and equality it is easier to understand how important it is to furthering progress. Giving women equal rights is not enough on its own to tackle existing inequalities.

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And the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 underlines how big those inequalities are. It will take another 132 years to close the divide, it finds. The current compounding crises often disproportionately affect women, and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further is growing.

List of the Global Gender Gap Index 2022. International Women’s Day
The smallest gender gaps globally are found in Iceland, Finland and Norway. gender gap.PNG Image: World Economic Forum

International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March, aims to promote a more gender equal world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

Progress relies on action, but not just from women. Through collective activism we can all make progress towards a more inclusive world, challenging gender stereotypes and calling out discrimination.

Achieving this gender equality relies on first tackling gender equity.

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