Equity or Equality for Women?

by Shanthi Dairiam, IWRAW AP Founder & Board of Directors

Equity or equality is a current debate among women’s groups from around the world as they link up and prepare for the great UN debates and decisions that are taking place with regard to Sustainable Development Goals, the Post 2015 Development Agenda as well as the forthcoming celebration of Beijing plus 20 in 2015. Through the emails that are circulated on the subject, one can see the debates among women on the usefulness of supporting the concept of equality versus adopting the use of the concept of equity. The latter is seen as based on the principle of fairness and as addressing inequality and the realities of women’s lives; while the former is seen as merely promoting equal or same opportunities as that enjoyed by men. The conclusion is that equality may just continue to perpetuate inequality.

I would like to add to this discussion. In the debates by the women’s groups, the meaning that is given to the concept of equality is outmoded. The concept of equality that the CEDAW Convention prescribes and as used by the CEDAW Committee is substantive equality. This concept of equality goes beyond equal opportunities or what is known as formal equality.

Those who prescribe the concept of equity over equality do so because they say that equity requires that each person is given according to their needs; they believe that if you speak of equity instead of equality it will be clear that the objective is not treating women the same as men but more importantly, giving women what they need. Equality on the other hand they say, stops at giving same opportunities to women and men but does not guarantee that women will be able to access these opportunities due to pre-existing/ existing inequalities that women experience. This shows a misunderstanding of what equality means especially since the advent of the CEDAW Convention.

Under this Convention, substantive equality is the goal to be achieved in all spheres. To achieve this, the obligation of the State extends beyond a purely formal legal obligation of equal treatment of women with men. In fact under article 2 of the Convention, states have the dual obligation of incorporating the principle of equality in the law (formal equality) and ensuring as well, the practical realization of the principle of equality.  Hence a purely formal legal approach is not sufficient to achieve women’s de-facto equality with men, which is substantive equality. It is not enough to guarantee women treatment that is identical to that of men which is the provision of equal opportunities. Rather, biological as well as socially and culturally constructed differences between women and men must be taken into account and under certain circumstances, non-identical treatment of women and men will be required in order to address such differences. This includes a redistribution of resources and power between men and women favouring women.  (CEDAW Convention article 4.1 and General Recommendation 25) If this is not done then such inaction or neutral or identical treatment of women and men is discrimination against women under article 1 of CEDAW as the practical enjoyment of equality as a right would have been denied to women. Discrimination includes any treatment that has the effect of nullifying the enjoyment of human rights by women in all spheres, though such discriminatory effect was not intended. (Summary of article 1 of the CEDAW Convention).

Equality and the practical enjoyment of it by women, is a universal value, a legal standard and goal and a human right. In fact, without equality, human rights would have no meaning. It is equality that demands that human rights is for all regardless of sex, status, origin, descent, location, sexual orientation and gender identity. Equity is a not a standard or a goal. It is subjective, discretionary and arbitrary. It is fragile as a policy if used as a stand-alone concept without it being linked as a means to achieve the goal of equality.

It can also be used against women. During the debates when the Beijing Platform was drafted in 1994/1995, Muslim countries and the Holy See and its followers from Latin America strongly argued for the use of the term equity and resisted the term equality. For them, women and men could not be valued equally. They demanded the use of the term equity, as in their view, this term justified greater resources and power skewed in favour of men on the basis of their god-given and immutable responsibilities as providers and leaders.  Equity was used to give men according to their “need”. The determination of need itself is political and value driven. But the conservative forces did not get their wish during the Beijing Platform debates as the Human Rights Caucus argued heatedly and long against the term equity. The Beijing Platform adopted the term equality.  We will be retracting the hard won conceptual gains made in our understanding of equality twenty years ago if we now say the concept of equality is not useful. Equity cannot stand alone or be used interchangeably with equality.

(For an elaboration of this subject see “Equity or Equality for Women? Understanding CEDAW’s Equality Principles”. IWRAW Asia Pacific Paper Series. No.14. http://www.iwraw-ap.org/publications/doc/OPS14_Web.pdf)

Reprinted with permission from the author.

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Global Day of Action on Military Spending: Invest in people not the prospect of war!

by Geeta Desai

April 14, 2014, marked the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas called on all country governments to make cuts in military expenditures and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges, instead. The Rapporteur’s call to action could not have come at a better time because according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending levels are at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion in 2012.

Quite frankly, it blows my mind to think that most countries would have that kind of money to spend on the acquisition and deployment of weapons, given the competing responsibilities and demands within their country borders. Curious to know which countries placed such a premium on military spending, I decided to look it up. This is what I found: the United States spends the most (no surprise, there) with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France, in that order, rounding up the top five spenders. In terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia spends the highest (9.3%), Russia is second (4.1%), the US is third (3.8%) and France and China are fourth and fifth, spending 2.25% and 2.0% of their respective GDP. As a percent of the world’s total military spending, the US is responsible for 33% of the expenditures, by far the largest slice of the pie.

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I expected the United States to be at the top of this list and I’m not exactly surprised that Russia is in the top five given that neither country has as yet outgrown its “Cold War” mentality. Additionally, the terror attacks against the US and consequent military engagements abroad, continue to shape its military budget. If the foreign policy pundits are to be believed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see China on the list given their contention that China is positioning itself to dominate the world. But, what explains the presence of France and Saudi Arabia on this list? According to a recent report, President Francois Hollande’s government has reviewed the recent conflicts in Mali and Libya and feels that its level of defense spending maintains the country’s ability to react to a terrorist attack. Saudi military spending has doubled in the last ten years, according to SIPRI and Carina Solmirano, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said: “It seems that for the Gulf region, internal or domestic problems or the likelihood of problems like the Arab Spring, might have led to countries reinforcing military spending by giving security forces more resources, as a way to make them more loyal to the government.”

Okay, I’ll admit that in the world in which we live, there are genuine security needs that require investments in weapons, military personnel and in the general maintenance of vigilance and preparedness for action. But when is enough, enough? And, who decides when enough is enough?

So, I think that there are two things to consider here.

First, in each of the countries listed above, there are critical numbers of people whose basic human needs are unmet: In the US, 47 million Americans live in poverty; in Russia 18 million live in poverty with the gulf between the rich and the poor getting wider each year; in France, one in six people or over 11 million people live in poverty and social exclusion; in China, a staggering 99 million people fall below the government’s established poverty line and in Saudi Arabia, a quarter of the native Saudi population lives in abject poverty. For these people, investments in militarization are irrelevant; investments in health, education, housing, food and other daily infrastructure supports make the difference between life, ill-health and death. Admittedly, military spending is a small part of the national budgets of these countries, but the dollar amounts are ridiculously large and all five country governments should reassess the actual level of military need as opposed to the desire to overreach with the intention of stockpiling.

Second, it is commonly understood that weapons that are stockpiled usually find their way into the wrong hands and are the greatest contributing factor for conflicts in several dozen countries. As a matter of fact, April 2, 2014, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly for the first time set global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion. It regulates all conventional arms within the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Among other provisions, the treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – also includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of the five countries that lead in military spending only France has ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN has urged country governments to prepare national budgets that will implement the will of the people, based on representative opinion polling. We need to tell our elected officials that we want our taxes put towards the promotion of peace and sustainable development, not towards the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Geeta Desai is a member of the International Federation of University Women and has served as its representative to the UN. Currently, she is Advocacy Convener for Women Graduates-USA and writes a blog on the status of women. Additionally, as an Organizational Development consultant, she continues to provide capacity building support for international nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wg-usa.org/advocacyblog/2014/04/global-day-of-action-on-military-spending-invest-in-people-not-the-prospect-of-war/.