This CCMW discussion paper tries to clarify our understanding and belief in the values of empowerment, equality and equity for Canadian Muslim women and girls.
We do not claim this to be an academic or scholarly paper. We aim to explain in plain language our understanding of these concepts which are distinct but closely linked and are essential for the development of our rights.
We believe that Islam teaches us about the equality of all persons, and that compassion and social justice are the fundamental values to guide us.
We also adhere to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and think these are compatible with Islamic teachings.
We agree with the various international agreements made by the members of the United Nations, for example, CEDAW. [Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women] CEDAW’S objectives are based on the concept of equality of women.
Some years ago, at the time of the 1995 Beijing Conference, some “fundamentalist Islamic forces and the Vatican” objected to the concept of equality of women. Their arguments were that there are gender differences, so there needs to be differing treatment, and they preferred the term “equity” and “complementariness of the sexes.”
They argued that equity does not require equal treatment, and so men and women should be treated differentially according to their needs, keeping in mind their gender. To them equity requires that each person is given according to their needs and not based on the principle of equality. To them women do not need to be treated as equal to men.
There is misunderstanding of the concept of equality as many people equate equality with sameness. Those who oppose the use of the term equality are fearful of practical ramifications of this value that all humans are equal in the eyes of God and in laws. The fear is because it contradicts the patriarchal systems of state and family.
In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational principles are of dignity, liberty, and equality. It states, “All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Equality has a legal definition under international and national laws, which state that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law, fair treatment with no discrimination, exclusion or restrictions. Equality will only be achieved by the availability of opportunities leading to equality of results.
It is vital to note that the objective of equality recognizes the biological differences and acknowledges that at times special measures are necessary to ameliorate the inequality between men and women, e.g. protecting childbirth/maternity.
If we believe and want democratic rights of citizenship, these have to be based on treating all individuals as equal with equal rights and opportunities.
The concept of egalitarianism is the same as equality as it means that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Equality is a state of being equal in status, rights and opportunities.
What about equity?
Are the terms equity and equality interchangeable? No, they are similar but not the same. We see both these as vital and linked but distinct.
Equity is a subjective term and can mean different things to different people. Equity means “just and fair” treatment, and so the question is who judges what is fair or what is just? It may be interpreted differently by cultures and peoples, and that is those who do not want equality for all insist on using the term equity rather than equality.
Someone has described equity and equality as “equity is the process, equality is the outcome…equity targets the disadvantage and tries to raise them to the level of equality.” And that “Corrective measures are sometimes required to achieve substantive equality” but the aim is always equality.
We think equity is linked to social justice. Social justice includes economic justice, equity in education and social security for it promotes the welfare of all citizens. Political philosopher John Rawls states. “Social justice is the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”
In conclusion, CCMW’s motto of empowerment, equality and equity are integrated values and though their meanings are distinct, they are closely linked and each is important in the advancement of women’s rights.