Round-Up Talk on equal rights and opportunities

In our expert interview, five Germany alumni report on where they see inequality and need for more social justice and how they are working with their projects and initiatives to promote more equality. They also give specific tips for those who also want to campaign for equal opportunities.

Our Experts

Prof. Dr. Mala Pandurang

Mala Pandurang is a Professor and Principal at Dr. BMN College of Home Science, Mumbai, India. She is Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in India since 2019. Besides a Humboldt Research Fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, her research grants include Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Charles Wallace India-UK research grant, a major research grant from the University Grants Commission (UGC) New Delhi, Inlaks Fellowship in Social Sciences from Asiatic Society, an associateship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla, and NET/JRF from UGC. Her areas of research include postcolonial writing, diaspora theory and gender studies.

Juan Auz

Juan Auz is an Ecuadorian attorney who specialised in environmental law and human rights. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Hertie School where he also collaborates with its Centre for Fundamental Rights, focussing on the role of the Inter-American Human Rights System with regard to climate change issues. Previously he worked for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) as a Climate Protection Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and he has extensive experience as a political and legal advisor for indigenous organisations. He co-founded Terra Mater and served as an Executive Director for Fundación Pachamama, two organisations that defend the rights of indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon and protect the remaining ecosystems of indigenous territories.

Eeva Rantamo

Eeva Rantamo is a cultural scientist and has worked for many years as a lecturer, project manager and consultant for cultural education, intercultural competence, simple language as well as inclusion and barrier-free accessibility in cultural institutions, education and tourism. As the founder of the office “Kulturprojekte – Inklusive Kulturarbeit” (Culture projects — Inclusive cultural activity) in Cologne, she heads international and local development projects for barrier-free accessibility and equal rights in cultural communication. Finland to her is not just a home, but above all, it offers inspiration for inclusion efforts, regular interaction with colleagues from cultural institutions and collaboration in joint projects.

Elena Lipilina

Prior to becoming a German Chancellor Fellow, Elena Lipilina was working as an ICT and Education consultant at the World Bank and as a Political Analyst for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Moscow. However, her most relevant professional engagement is with Wamsport – a non-profit organisation which Elena founded in 2014 to empower women in Russia and globally by developing women’s amateur sports and advocating gender equality in sport and beyond.

During her Fellowship year in Germany, Elena will be working on the project of the Women’s Summer Games as a vehicle to drive women’s empowerment and inclusion through sport, while participating herself in the EuroGames 2020 held in Dusseldorf.
Elena holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Syracuse University, (class of 2012) which she attended as a Fulbright scholar and an equivalent master’s degree in Linguistics and Translation, (class of 2009) from the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. She also studied Social and Political Sciences at universities in Finland, Sweden and Germany.

Marco Tulio Pereira Silva

Marco Tulio Pereira Silva is a Brazilian German Chancellor Fellow with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is developing a project concerning the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market, looking for motivating and successful stories and also getting to know how Germany deals with inclusion as public policy. Marco graduated with a degree in Journalism and Multimedia from the Centro Universitário Una in Belo Horizonte, and has a degree as a specialist in Business Administration from the FGV EAESP – Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo.

He worked as an adman at Agência Amplo Brasil from 2008 to 2012, as a project coordinator at the German-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AHK São Paulo) from 2012 to 2018 and as an institutional relations coordinator at the NGO Comunitas until July 2019.

Five experts, five questions: question 1

What do “equal rights” and “equal opportunities” mean to you?

Mala Pandurang:

I have been teaching for the past 26 years at an undergraduate college in the city of Mumbai, India, which is a college exclusively for women and which caters to around 1,000 students from different strata of society and religious backgrounds. I am now the Principal of the institution and my perspective is that of an educationist, so, I would like to invert the order of the question and suggest that “equal opportunities” should come first, as it is equal opportunities that will provide students (irrespective of their gender, class, caste or religion) with the tools to attain equal rights. Once we are able to provide proper and qualitative educational facilities for social and vertical mobility, students can be put on the path that leads to them to equitable access to resources, which will in turn enable them to achieve their potential and realise their dreams. They will find themselves on a level playing field for social justice and equal rights, which, in addition to the right to education, should also include the right to think and express themselves, the right to a job, the right to equal pay, the right to gender equality, and above all, the fundamental right to be.

Juan Auz:

Equal rights mean that, regardless of your ethnicity, gender, nationality, sex, or any other characteristic or condition you may have or identify with, every individual and institution should respect and protect your rights. When I say rights, I suggest that the very basic standard should be the content of international human rights treaties. This, of course, has a strong connection with the concept of equal opportunities, which to me is the way to fulfil the tenet of equal rights. If public or private institutions can do their very best to level the playing field for all, then no structural inequality will preclude anybody from achieving their dreams. For instance, a policy that subsidises education for people coming from developing countries determined to settle in a developed country is a good example of this idea. Therefore, both concepts are intertwined and mutually dependent.

Eeva Rantamo:

The concept of equality demands common and equal opportunities as a basic right for everyone. Equal opportunities are only possible when the overall conditions. My work for inclusive culture builds on equality as a matter of principle and individual diversity of all human beings. They are both the reason for and the goal of my work. As long as inequality prevails, there can be no freedom for all but only privileges for some. Culture only works when we are all together. It can only exist when it is shared by everyone. To make that happen, the necessary conditions must be established. This is a constant, varied task that is different every day. Equal opportunities and equal rights also include recognising necessities together and not denying facts or scientific results.

Elena Lipilina:

To me, equal rights and opportunities mean that an individual can live to their fullest potential irrespective of their background, gender, sexual orientation or any factors other than merit and aspiration. However, the term “equality” is a complex one. In many ways, equality is seen as an equalisation in its broadest sense, which most of the time fails to acknowledge women as different entities with their specific needs shaped by the history of discrimination, culture, socialisation of females and the anatomy of their bodies. In my view, achieving equal rights and equal opportunities is not feasible unless we realise that, in the particular case of women’s rights, “equal” does not by default mean “the same” and the gender gap cannot be closed by simply affording the same “package” to women without recognising how different their journeys and starting points to this equality are.

Marco Tulio Pereira Silva:

First of all, I would like to refer to the term “inclusion”. In my view, it is really important that we understand what an “inclusive society” actually means. This brings me onto another term, “diversity”. Among human beings we see all kinds of diversity, like gender, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, disabilities, linguistic differences, socio-economic status and cultural background. This is natural and a part of life. An inclusive society is therefore a coexistence of these diversities, where every and each individual has the possibility and right to belong and to participate, regardless of their own characteristics.

In this context, “equal rights” means harmonious, peaceful and simple coexistence of people of all kinds, who respect, tolerate and support each other within a society in which they are all subject to the same treatment. “Equal opportunities”, on the other hand, denotes the acknowledgement that each individual should be able to fully participate in the society without facing prejudice because of their differences.

Comment below!

What does equal opportunity mean to you? Are you committed to more social justice and equality? If yes, how and why? Tell us and other readers about it in a comment.

April 2020


Avalyn A. Cahulogan
24 April 2020

For me, equal opportunity exists when fair treatment is practiced and equal rights recognized. Fair treatment starts from home. Families need to recognize that gender does not determine the opportunity to education, nor does it uplifts opinions. Moreover, families need to appreciate each member’s uniqueness hence academic performance is not a pre-requisite to opportunities, nor are medals and trophies. Oftentimes, families are shaped by societal norms which are very much ingrained in the day to day actions of individuals. Unless, families and society treat each individual fairly, equal opportunity is compromised. When an individual understands and appreciates fair treatment, then that individual could channel fair treatment and advocate equal rights.
Social justice and equality play a vital role in the society. Society should not put prejudice to certain sectors because I believe in the uniqueness of the individual and the individual’s inherent claim to opportunities.

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