Equality in society occurs when everyone is treated equally. No one faces discrimination based on traits like race, gender, age, sexuality, or disability. Everyone can access equal opportunities and the resources they need to thrive. You won’t find any society that’s reached perfect equality, although some societies have achieved more progress than others. Hierarchies, discrimination, and privilege remain serious obstacles, but equality matters in every part of society. Here are fifteen examples:
#1. Racial equality
When a society has racial equality, it means no one is oppressed or discriminated against because of their race. True equality goes deeper than this, however, and requires a shift in how we define “race” in the first place. While racism is real, race is a social and political – not a biological – construct. Once this is understood, racial hierarchies are dismantled. A person’s race can no longer justify discrimination, privilege, or any other difference. As Dr. Alan Goodman said in an interview with PBS, until the idea of biological race is eliminated, “…there is a possibility that well-meaning and not-so-well meaning individuals will drag that up and will inevitably put that in our faces as the reasons why there are differences in life circumstances between different groups.”
#2. Gender equality
In gender-equal societies, no one is discriminated against based on their gender. There are a handful of societies where equality between men and women is nearly achieved. For over a decade, Iceland has ranked the highest according to the Global Gender Gap Index (which measures equality in health, work, politics, and education). Iceland has closed almost 88% of its gender gap. Globally, gender equality will take over a century to achieve. Improvements like access to education, access to employment, political representation, and access to healthcare help close the gap. Belief in gender binaries also reinforces misogyny and patriarchy, which can be deadly. An equal society must also deal with its beliefs and norms surrounding gender and gender roles.
#3. LGBTQ+ equality
According to the Pew Research Center, equality and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community are “sharply divided” by economic development, region, and country. Younger people, educated people, and people from Western countries tend to be more accepting. On the other hand, those with favorable views of Europe’s right-wing populist parties tend to be less accepting. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed that members of the LGBTQ+ community faced “social stigma, moral opprobrium, and legal discrimination.” In an equal society, members of the LGBTQ+ community would enjoy the same rights as cishet people and be thoroughly protected from bigotry and violence.
#4. Marriage equality
Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) asserts that “men and women of full age” have the right to marry and have a family. This is a right they have “without any limitation to race, nationality, or religion.” Marriage equality also includes same-sex marriage. In the United States, the Supreme Court didn’t end laws banning interracial marriage until 1967. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage and give same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce, and adopt children. Many places around the world have since lifted restrictions on marriage based on characteristics like race and sexuality, though many others have yet to give many groups full marriage rights.
#5. Equality for disabled people
Unequal societies discriminate against disabled people in many ways. They face obstacles to employment, marriage, healthcare, and other rights. According to a 2019 article from The Conversation, the Human Rights Commission in Canada found that almost 60% of all claims name disability as the basis for discrimination. Equality would look like inclusive public spaces, appropriate and updated language, laws that protect peoples’ rights, and the lifting of oppressive and discriminatory laws.
#6. Income equality
Investopedia defines income inequality as “how unevenly income is distributed throughout a population.” When inequality is severe, it leads to wealth inequality. Several factors determine inequality, such as ethnicity, gender, occupation, geographic location, and historical income. In the United States, multiple studies show the poorest get poorer while the richest get richer. Incomes are not growing equally. In an equal society, income disparities wouldn’t be so severe and wage growth wouldn’t be restricted to those who are already wealthy.
#7. Equal employment access
Factors like race and gender link to employment access. According to the ILO, while the gender gap in managerial and professional jobs is closed, only 2-3% of the top jobs in corporations are held by women. Research also finds that about half of the world’s workers are in “sex-stereotyped occupations” where the gender makeup can be as significant as 80% women or 80% men. This transforms certain occupations into “male” or “female.” This is important to understand regarding the gender pay gap. It’s also important because it means places with seemingly “equal” employment opportunities may actually be gender-segregated.
#8. Religious equality
Religious equality means treating all religions the same, including any denominations within the different religions. Globally, many laws and acts protect religion (or lack of religion) including the Equality Act 2010, which is an Act of Parliament of the UK. The Act forbids discrimination based on holding (or not holding) a specific religion, holding (or not holding) a certain philosophical belief, or being connected to someone who has a religion or belief. Religious equality does not give members of a religion unrestricted freedom to oppress others. It simply means that religions can not be discriminated against or given special privileges.
#9. Equal access to mental healthcare
Mental healthcare is an essential part of overall healthcare. In the United States, millions have trouble accessing vital services. Laws like The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, The Addictions Equity Act of 2008, and the Affordable Care Act (2010) address access, but many people still lack access to mental health providers in the same way they can access other medical providers. Access is a more prevalent problem in low-and middle-income countries for reasons like financial strain, stigmatization, and socio-cultural and religious influences. In an equal society, mental healthcare would not be treated differently than other healthcare, it would be affordable and accessible, and people wouldn’t face stigmatization.
#10. Equal access to reproductive healthcare
Reproductive healthcare (which includes access to birth control, abortions, maternal and infant care, menstrual cycle resources, and more) is often not provided equally. People can lack access based on their gender, sexuality, and income. Equality in this area could include universal coverage for reproductive healthcare, improved awareness and education, and decreased stigmatization.
#11. Equal access to education
The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the UDHR. In many places, however, access is restricted based on gender, race, geographic location, and income. In an equal society, a high-quality education wouldn’t be limited to those with high incomes. Paying for college wouldn’t saddle a student with years of high-interest loans. Education equality is especially significant because of its impact on a person’s future employment opportunities.
#12. Child welfare equality
Globally, children’s rights and welfare are consistently threatened. Because of their lack of institutional power, children depend on others to support and empower them. Documents like the Convention on the Rights of the Child assert that children are “entitled to special care and assistance.” In an equal society, all children receive this special care and assistance without discrimination based on their (or their guardian’s) race, sex, language, religion, ethnicity, disability, and so on.
#13. Voting equality
Without a system of voting, deep inequalities in society are inevitable. Historically, the right to vote in free and fair elections is not something everyone has been granted. Factors like gender, land-owning status, and race restricted a person’s access. Today, a person can lose their right to vote in certain circumstances. For a society to be truly equal, however, voting must be open to all and made as easy as possible. That includes making it easy to register to vote (or registering voters automatically), ensuring people don’t wait for hours to vote, expanding early voting, and making election days national holidays.
#14. Housing equality
Housing inequality is a result of racial, social, income, and wealth inequality. Because so many factors are at play, closing the gap is complicated. Laws and policies that address discriminatory and predatory behavior in real estate, renter’s rights, and housing market regulation are part of the solution. An equal society also needs to address the roots of homelessness, which often deprives a person of their right to adequate shelter.
#15. Equality in the criminal justice system
In many places, the criminal justice system is a hotbed of inequalities. Who has access to justice, who is punished, and who receives the harshest punishments are major concerns. According to the Criminal Justice Alliance, a network of 170 organizations, a fair and effective criminal justice system “must ensure all individuals have an equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of their race, race, sex, religion or any other protected characteristic.” Equality within the criminal justice system involves eliminating systemic bias, prioritizing effective crime prevention, and creating effective rehabilitation programs. It should not be a place where inequalities are reinforced.