If you turn to the person sitting near you right now and had to explain the difference between inequality and inequity, what would you say? I am most familiar with these terms in the context of health, where inequality refers to differences in health between people that can be measured, and related to things that are unavoidable. This would include things like genetic and biological differences between people. Inequity refers to differences in health between people that can be avoided, and are unnecessary or unfair. This would include things like ill-health resulting from unsafe working conditions and inadequate access to health services and facilities.
The difference between inequality and inequity is important and helpful because it enables us to focus on things that we can – and must – do something about. The term inequity has a moral and ethical dimension. It refers to differences which are unnecessary and avoidable but, in addition, are also considered unfair and unjust. Those of us with a social conscience are compelled to examine and transform the unfair causes of inequity. Inequality will unfortunately endure be outside the realm of what we may be able to change. However inequity is something within our power to change.
As with everything, the language is important. Some languages and cultures may not have a different word for equity and inequality like there is in English. However even if the word is the same, the difference in understanding what is preventable by social actions and what is influenced by biology, is useful for shaping our efforts to realise the human right to health.
Watipa was the first global organisation with links to Malawi to endorse the Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH). The Convention would be a global health treaty based on the right to health and aimed and closing national and global health inequities. It would provide standards to ensure health care and underlying determinants of health, such as clean water and nutritious food, were a reality for all, while also securing international and domestic finances to address and sustain efforts to achieve health equity.
Take a look at the Framework and see if it might be something that you also feel like supporting. It’s through small actions like this that we can all do something about inequity in our society.