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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.