When it comes to addressing social issues, understanding the difference between equity and equality is crucial.

As buzzwords used by charities around the world, they are often used interchangeably. However, this mistake can be damaging to those who actually benefit from the solutions being created.

By exploring the difference between equity and equality, we can better address the unique challenges faced by rural women in developing countries.

What is the difference between equity and equality?

The difference between equity and equality lies in their core principles.

Equality is about treating everyone the same by providing equal access to resources, opportunities, and rights, regardless of individual needs or circumstances.

In contrast, equity focuses on fairness by giving everyone the resources and opportunities they need to achieve success while considering their unique challenges.

Essentially, the difference between equity and equality is the difference between sameness and fairness.

Equity and equality in international development

When looking at the difference between equity and equality in international development, there are two key areas of impact.

Resource Allocation: 

The difference between equity and equality is particularly important in the international development and charity sectors when allocating resources. 

An equality-based approach distributes resources evenly, without considering the unique needs of different regions or communities. 

However, an equity-based strategy targets resources in areas or communities facing greater challenges. This way, resources are provided to individuals based on their unique needs. This ensures that they have the tools needed to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

Tailored Interventions: 

Recognising how equity and equality differ allows for the creation of tailored interventions that cater to specific populations.

For instance, rural women in less wealthy countries face unique challenges compared to urban women in these countries. Though stemming from common issues like limited access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, rural areas face distinct challenges due to heightened marginalisation unique to their geography and communities.

Development organisations and charities which focus on equitable solutions can develop targeted programmes to address the unique challenges. This empowers rural people to overcome barriers and reach their full potential.

What is the difference between equity and equality in education?

Rural women face unique challenges in accessing education. These challenges often stem from a combination of social, cultural, and economic factors that create barriers to education.

Recognising these individual barriers is essential for designing impactful interventions, and is the first step toward levelling the playing field.

The Barriers to Education for Rural Girls

A lack of proximity to schools, for example, leads to increased travel time and expenses, whilst exposing rural girls to safety risks, such as harassment and assault. 

Similarly, rural girls face barriers due to period poverty. The lack of access to menstrual products and WASH facilities, along with heightened taboo around the topic of menstruation, lead to girls from rural communities missing more school than those elsewhere.

Early marriage presents a significant obstacle for rural women around the world, frequently truncating their educational pursuits. In parallel, gender-based violence, whether experienced within or beyond the classroom, exacerbates existing disparities in these communities.

These issues each perpetuate cycles of gender inequality, disempowering rural girls and limiting their future opportunities. Gender stereotypes and cultural expectations often contribute to a hostile learning environment, discouraging rural women from pursuing their education.

These systemic barriers to education mean that rural girls grow up into rural women who feel disempowered and struggle to access opportunities that, even when available, often exclude those without an education.

A rural home electrified by solar technology through Barefoot College International's Solar training programme. A family stand in the porch of their home, with a solar panel on the roof.

Equity vs Equality in Education

An equity-based approach in education seeks to tackle these barriers head-on. For instance, building schools within rural communities reduce travel time and safety risks, whilst promoting community engagement and ownership of education.

Moreover, implementing localised gender-sensitive curricula creates a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. This breaks down harmful stereotypes, which are often more deeply embedded in rural areas. 

The Impact of Equity in Education for Rural Women

In addition to interventions for early education, it is essential to look at education for rural women across their lives. By creating education programmes that aren’t dependent on formal education, we ensure equitable access to these solutions. This acknowledges the historic lack of access that these women face and doesn’t penalise them for their lack of opportunity. 

By understanding the difference between equity and equality in education, and focusing on equity-based interventions, we can begin to dismantle barriers to entry in developing countries. This helps women to access the education and further opportunities that they deserve.

This, in turn, empowers them to contribute to their community’s development and breaks the cycle of gender inequality. 

What is an equitable approach to economic empowerment?

Understanding the difference between equity and equality in economic empowerment is crucial for addressing the unique challenges rural women face. It allows for tailored livelihood development and skills training. 

Barriers to Economic Empowerment for Rural Women

Rural women often encounter systemic and cultural barriers that reduce access to resources and opportunities. By adopting an equity-based approach, we can create targeted programmes that cater to their unique experiences.

They frequently lack access to essential resources, such as land ownership and access to bank accounts or credit. This limits their ability to invest in businesses or education. 

An equity-based approach provides women with an education that promotes financial and digital literacy within a rural context. This supports them to access banking and microfinance and increases decision-making and ownership. Through these solutions, we can empower them to aspire and expand their horizons. 

Agriculture is often the primary source of income for rural communities. Unfortunately, rural women often lack essential resources, such as livestock, seeds, tools, and training.

By implementing equity-based solutions, you create targeted programmes that provide these women with the necessary resources and training in sustainable farming methods. This improves their productivity and earning potential, leading to economic empowerment.

These solutions put the power back into the hands of rural people. Instead of expecting them to adapt their lives and circumstances to access opportunities elsewhere, equitable solutions take these opportunities to them directly and adjust them accordingly. 

A woman from Zanzibar stands holding a beehive honey comb. She is a solar engineer, trained through Barefoot College International's livelihoods programme as a beekeeper.

How understanding equity drives change

Recognising the difference between equity and equality is vital for driving meaningful change for women and communities.  

By focusing solely on equality, many charities and development organisations ignore the nuance and localised needs of people and communities. Whilst equality is an essential goal, it must be sought through equitable solutions.

There are many intersections between the two, but by adopting an equity-based approach, development organisations and charities can create targeted interventions that address the unique needs and challenges faced by underserved communities worldwide. 

Learn more about our equitable programmes around the world

The difference between equity and equality