Principle of Equality

In international human rights law, no person should be discriminated either based on age, gender, race or creed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted more than 60 years ago, but even today, not all people recognize and enjoy equal rights. In many countries there has been differing equality legislation in terms of definition, concept or even approach. This disparity has hindered progress of the realization of equality and there is, therefore, a major effort required to integrate the legal standards in order to protect against discrimination and hence promote equality.

The principle of equality reflects on a moral and professional consensus among human rights and the equality experts. It is therefore unjust to treat individuals differently in a way that denies some of them important social benefits unless we prove that there arises differences between these people that are relevant to this differential treatment. There are certain situations where we can treat people differently, for example, it is not right to discriminate against people because they are disabled in some way. We don’t give driver licenses to blind people or hire paraplegics as policemen or firemen. In such a scenario, the differences are in line with the job being sought. These people cannot simply do the job without putting the lives of others at stake. The principles formulated are intended to assist in combating discrimination and promoting equality. Most individuals believe that we should treat all members in a manner that will be considered to be wrongful if inflicted on members who belong to our species.

The demand of equality among human beings can be considered as a situation where the interests of all human beings are viewed as equal, unless in a situation where there is a moral justification of not doing so. All human beings are created equal; however, they are manifestly not equal. It’s important to indicate that there are real differences which should be considered in order for equality to be achieved. Human beings differ greatly in virtues, intelligence and capacities. Claims to equality, therefore, do not rest on factual equality.

Human beings do not only differ in their capacities, but also their intelligence, capacities and virtues are not evenly distributed among the sexes and races. It is morally wrong to view women as incapable of benefitting from education; hence this claim cannot serve to justify the reason of preventing them from attending schools. Intelligence is, therefore, thought as being morally relevant capacity and this is due to its relation to the capacity of moral responsibility. Various approaches show the differences between individuals though they tend to be discriminatory in effect, if not in intention. It is therefore important to have a conception understanding of these differences and why they exist. The protectionist approach tries to recognize these differences, although, it seeks to curb women freedom with the rationale that it aims at protecting them from harm or even wrong doing. This approach actually reproduces gender discrimination instead of challenging it.

The substantive or corrective approach does recognize that for benefits to be redistributed equally between individuals, measures to promote individual rights must be in a position to transform the unequal power relations between individuals. There should be equal opportunities as well as equal access to these opportunities among women. This approach therefore recognizes that men and women should not be treated the same. The main challenge, however, is to realize when to take notice of these differences and to decide on the appropriate measures for different treatment, that should facilitate equal control, access and equal results. Such measures, therefore, should be assessed in order to ensure promotion of autonomy instead of protection or dependency. This should be done without compromising the claim to equal rights and equality which are seen as a legal standard.

Some people claim to have found evidence of genetically based differences in the ability between sexes or races. Whatever the evidence, we should clarify that claim to equality does not depend on moral capacity, physical strength, intelligence or similar matters of fact but rather equality is a moral ideal and not a simple assertion of facts. There is no sense in assuming that the difference in the ability between individuals should show a difference in the consideration they give towards satisfying their interests and needs.

The principle of equality is a prescription of how we should treat human beings and not a description of alleged actual equality among humans. Bernard Williams argues that demand for equality should not rest on factual equality among individuals, since there is no such equality that exists. According to Williams, the only respect in which all men are equal is that they are equally men. He argues that individuals possess characteristics which are morally relevant. William doesn’t focus on the unique human characteristics but rather the capacity to feel affection and pain. He therefore justifies his idea of equality on the virtue of these capacities.

It would be unjust or unlawful for someone’s opportunities to be either limited or increased simply because of a statistical fact that maybe due to gender, race or creed to which an individual belongs. According to singer, the most relevant characteristics are not colour, intelligence, gender or moral personality but if any being has an interest or not. Therefore all beings with interest are equal and 

It is impossible to deny that differences don’t exist, what we should ask ourselves is if those existing differences should lead to different moral consideration. These differences may result to different rights, however, this should not rule out equal consideration. Human beings differ from each other in terms of intelligence, physical attributes, virtues etc. although these differences exist, people should be treated based on morally relevant and sufficient reason.

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