Training Outline

2.7 Standard Lecture: The Principle of Equality (20 minutes)

  • Using Transparencies 29–32, explain to participants about the principle of equality and the various ways of defining it in law. The principle of equality is closely related to the notion of human dignity. It is grounded in the idea that all human beings, regardless of physical, mental and other differences, are of equal value and importance. Each person is entitled to and should be afforded equal concern and respect, or, as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. …’. The ILO Declaration of Philadelphia (1944) affirms that all human beings, irrespective of race, creed, or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom, dignity, of economic security, and equal opportunity. This means that all women and men should have an equal chance and be provided with equal opportunities to participate in society, including the labour market. Should differences therefore be ignored? No, on the contrary, it is widely believed that people who differ from others in ways which cause them disadvantage should be treated differently to compensate for the disadvantages they face arising from those differences.

    The principle of equality, as well as its corollary, namely the prohibition of discrimination, can be defined in various ways in law.

    Formal equality

    In a formal approach to equality, persons who are situated alike should be treated in the same way (Transparency 31). Such an approach frequently ignores individual and contextual differences and disadvantages, as if these were irrelevant. The denial of identical treatment is prohibited, but there is no requirement to make accommodations or adjustments. This approach, therefore, falls short of meeting the support needs of some disabled people.

    Equality of opportunity

    Another way in which equality may be conceptualized is though equality of opportunity (Transparency 32). This concept provides for equal chances, but not necessarily equal results. In this way of looking at equality, the importance of individual and group differences is acknowledged and account is taken of external barriers experienced by disabled people, which may inhibit social participation. Both stereotypes and structural barriers are seen as obstacles to full participation. In this approach, disability is ignored, if stereotypes are the basis for action, and taken into account if changes to the social or built environment are necessary to promote access and inclusion.

    Equality of results

    Equality of results is concerned with securing the same outcomes for all (Transparency 33). When equality is viewed in this way, individual and group differences are acknowledged. For example, account is taken of any additional costs a disabled worker has, in examining the question of whether they receive equal pay. This concept of equality has several weaknesses. It does not clearly indicate where responsibility lies for meeting the needs of disabled persons so as to guarantee true equality of results – with the State, with the private sector or with the individual. In addition, it is not clear in this approach whether an individual’s merits are understood to justify unequal results.

  • Review Transparency 29 and ask participants to share what the principle of equality means to them in light of the two statements provided. Basically this means that all men and women should have an equal chance to participate in society, including the labour market.
  • Pose this question to participants: Should differences therefore be ignored? No, on the contrary, it is widely believed that people who differ from others in ways which cause them disadvantages should be treated differently, in order to compensate for the disadvantages that arise from those differences.
  • Stress that the concept of equality of opportunity is now the most frequently applied in national legislation.