Gender Equity for Gender Equality
Though the words “equality” and “equity” are used interchangeably to discuss “fairness,” gender equity is required to reach true gender equality.
Equality is treating individuals the same, but it is idealistic in that it assumes that everyone starts from the same place and needs the same amount of help. While “equity” is giving the appropriate quantitative and qualitative means through which an individual can be successful. In short, equality is an open door and equity is making sure that everyone has the opportunity to walk through the open door. Affirmative action, for example, rests on the idea that equity is needed to eventually reach equality in education.
Historically, the blend of the definitions of “equality” and “equity” has created confusion, conflict, and setbacks in the feminist gender equality agenda. In 1923, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress. By the 1979 ratification deadline the ERA received only 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications and was defeated. Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA movement caused this defeat because she framed the ERA as an attempt by radical feminists to create a “genderless” state. Schlafly argued that “equality” in the ERA meant “sameness” and that women would lose any privileges they already have, such as maternity leave or not being conscripted for the army. She, thereby, convinced millions of housewives across the United States that the ERA would “destroy morality and the family.” She successfully twisted definitions and changed the narrative. But the ERA was not an amendment to remove gender. It, quite oppositely, strived to give men and women the same opportunities despite their differences.
In our fight for gender equality today it is essential that we recognize gender differences and disadvantages. As such, “equality” through equal access and pay parity are not enough since these methods do not acknowledge inherit gender differences.
For example, though both men and women technically have equal access to higher management positions, it does not mean they have equal opportunities to become those leaders. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, for every 100 men with business-leadership managerial positions, there are only 66 women in those leadership roles. Thus, women may have the door to a leadership position open, but they also face more hurdles to reach that door.
Similarly, pay parity alone will not be enough. Women in the United States right now make 78 cents to every dollar that men make. Not only do women make less in the paid workforce than men, they also do almost double the unpaid work that men do. So even if pay parity is reached in the public realm, women will still be working twice as hard in the private realm. Therefore, true gender equality can be reached only if women receive equitable roles and compensations to men.
The common argument against equity is one of choice. Many argue that feminism should not be about equity, but about giving women the right to choose between working and staying at home. This argument would be valid, if women faced the same unbiased choice than men do. However, that is not the case.
I am not saying that women should not have a choice between being workers and being housewives. What I am saying is that women are often expected to assume the main responsibility for raising a family — the choice often is not a fair one. Research shows that when obligations at home rise, the women are much more likely than the men to stop working. When men work really long hours of more than 50 hour a week, female professionals are twice as likely to quit work to compensate for the partner at home. Many men expect their wives to make these sacrifices in employment if necessary. So do women and men face the same choices?
Through these examples of women in the workforce it is clear that to achieve change, collaboration across the public and private sector is essential. Public programs can help women by providing maternal/paternal leave, childcare, pay parity, and possibly gender quotas. While private programs can alter their recruitment and promotion processes, destigmatize pregnancy, and offer women mentorship.
Just by providing a choice, an entry, or a possibility to women, gender equality will not be reached. Instead, it is essential that we attempt to reach equality through equity by attempting to level the playing field for women in both the public and private realm.