What is Equality?
Our general understanding of equality tell us that all human beings should be entitled to the same respect & consideration because of their common humanity.
Equality of Opportunities
The concept of equality implies that all people, as human beings, are entitled to the same rights & opportunities to develop their skills & talents, and to pursue their goals and ambitions.
Natural & Social Inequalities
Natural inequalities are those that emerge between people as a result of their different capabilities & talents. It is generally assumed that natural differences cannot be altered but now a days because of advances in medical sciences and technology helped many disabled person to function effectively in society.
Social inequalities on the other hand, are those created by society. Certain societies may, for instance, value those who perform intellectual work over those who do manual work & reward them differently. They may treat differently people of different race, or colour, or gender, or caste. Differences of this kind reflect the values of a society some of these may certainly appear to us to be unjust.
Why does Equality Matter
Equality is a powerful moral & political ideal that has inspired & guided human society for many centuries. As a political ideal the concept of equality invokes the idea that all human beings have an equal work regardless of colour, gender, race, or nationality. It maintains that human beings deserve equal consideration & respect because of their common humanity.
In the modern period the equality of all human beings has been used as a rallying slogan in the struggles against states & social institution which uphold inequalities of rank, wealth status or privilege, among people.
Three dimensions of Equality
While identifying different kinds of inequalities that exist in society, various thinkers and ideologies have highlighted three main dimensions of equality namely, political, social & economic.
In democratic societies political equality would normally include granting equal citizenship to all the members of the state. Equal citizenship brings with it certain basic rights such as the rights to vote, freedom of expression, movement & association & freedom of belief.
Political Equality is necessary to remove any legal hurdles which might exclude people from a voice in government & deny them access to available social goods, the pursuit of social equality requires that people belonging to different groups & communities also have a fair and equal chance to compete goods and opportunities. For this, it is necessary to minimise the effects of social & economic inequalities and guarantee certain minimum conditions of life to all the members of the society- adequate health care, the opportunity to good education, adequate nourishment & a minimum wage, with other things.
Absolute equality of wealth or income has probably never existed in a society. Most democracies today try to make equal opportunities available to people in the belief that this would at least give those who have talent & determination the chance to improve their condition.
Marxism & liberalism are two important political ideologies which talks about economic inequality. Marxists & Socialists feel that economic inequality such as differences of rank. Therefore, to tackle inequality in society we need to go beyond providing equal opportunities & try to ensure public control over essential resources & forms of property. Whereas Liberals uphold the principle of competition as the most efficient & fair way of distributing resources & rewards in society. The problems for liberals is not inequality as such, but unjust & entrenched inequalities which prevent individuals from developing their capabilities.
Now, we will discuss two famous –isms that fights against inequality in detail. These are feminism & socialism-:
1.Feminism – Feminism is a political doctrine of equal rights for women & men. Feminists are those men & women who believe that many of the inequalities we see in society between men & women are neither natural nor necessary & can be altered so that both women & men can lead free & equal lives.
According to feminists, inequality between men & women in society is the result of patriarchy. Patriarchy procedures a division of labour by which women are supposed to responsible for private & domestic matters which men are responsible for work in the public domain.
Feminists contend that this public/private distinction & all forms of gender inequalities can & should be eliminated.
2. Socialism – Socialism refers to a set of political ideas that emerged as a response to the inequalities present in, & reproduced by the industrial capitalist economy. In India, Rammanohar Lohia, identified five kinds of inequalities that need to be fought against simultaneously : inequality between men & women, inequality based on skin colour, caste-based inequality, colonial rule of some countries over the other, & of course, economic inequality.
How can we promote Equality?
- Establishing formal Equality
The first step towards bringing about equality is, of course ending the formal system of inequality & priviledges. Social, economic & political inequalities all over the world have been protected by customs & legal systems that prohibited some sections of society from enjoying certain kinds of opportunities & rewards.
Most modern constitutions & democratic governments have formally accepted the principle of equality & incorporated it as identical, treatment by law to all citizens without any regard to their caste, race, religion or gender.
Equality through differential treatment
Formal Equality or equality before law is necessary but not sufficient to realise the principle of equality. Sometimes, it is necessary to treat people differently in order to ensure that they can enjoy equal rights. For example, special-able people may justifiable demand special ramps in public places.
When we wish to eliminate inequalities that are deeply rooted. It is necessary to take some more positive measures to eliminate & minimise entrenched forms of social inequalities. Most policies of affirmative action are thus designed to correct the cumulative effect of past inequalities. In the interest of creating an egalitarian & a section of society that is deprived of equal rights need to be given special protection & help. Special assistance in the form of affirmative action is expected to be a temporary or time-bound measure.
While reflecting on the issue of equality, a distinction must also be made between treating everyone in an identical manner and treating everyone as equal. The latter may on occasions need differential treatment but in all such cases the primary consideration is to promote equality.
With all these there is a caution must, however, be exercised to see that differential treatment does yield new structures of dominance & oppression or becomes a means for some dominant groups to reassert special privileges & power in society. Differential treatment is intended & justified only as a means to promoting a just & egalitarian society.
Egalitarian – Egalitarianism is a trend of thought in political philosophy. In modern democratic societies, the term “egalitarian’ is often used to refer to a position that favours for any of a wide array of reasons, a greater degree of equality of income & wealth across persons than currently exists.