What Is Equality?

In celebration of International Women’s Day today, which has the theme #EachforEqual, we’ve asked fourteen brilliant people: what does equality mean to you? 

The IWD 2020 campaign theme is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’. This draws on the theory of collective individualism – which means that our individual actions can have an impact on our larger society. 

Feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem summed it up beautifully when she explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Join us as we celebrate the achievements of women – the women who came before us, who stand beside us, and who will come after us. 

Illustration by Rachael Sarra.



Maree Lowes, actor and environmentalist

I’m a white woman who grew up in a middle class, mixed race, mixed religion, open-ended family in country Australia. My experience of equality is wanting to be a decent ally, and to start that journey, we need to understand our own privilege. 

My understanding of equality shifted profoundly when I learnt the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ – equity acknowledges where we’re coming from. We don’t all start on the same playing ground, and I know my starting ground is pretty bloody good compared to a lot of people, so my responsibility as an ally to the pursuit of equality (between First Nations people and post-colonial Australia, humans and nature, and people of different races, genders, sexual orientations and religions) is to 1) listen deeply, 2) acknowledge the processes of domination and depletion that have fed my personal privilege and struggle, and 3) remember that I am constantly choosing which side of history I want to stand on. Every. Single. Day. Because I know we can always, always choose to write a better story for each other and the planet. 



Rachael Sarra, contemporary Indigenous artist, designer and activist

Equality, to me, is closely linked to equity. I believe a truly equal world will celebrate the strength in our diversity. As women, women of colour or those who identify as women, we need to show up for ourselves and acknowledge that our individuality can add value and strength in all aspects of life if our systems and structures allow us the space to do so. Equality in my life is about breaking down the barriers that my ancestors have faced and standing on their shoulders to create pathways for the powerful, smart and diverse group of women who are still to come.



Isabel Lucas, actor and environmentalist

Equality means to me, treating others as you wish to be treated. My wish is that half of the world’s population – girls and women – can live an empowered life free from violence and have choices and opportunities that include gaining an education and making their own decisions regarding marriage and health. That’s why I have agreed to become an Ambassador for Plan International, an organisation that recognises the power and potential of every single girl and advocates for their equality.  I am fortunate that I have opportunities to speak up and care for my sisters in developing countries where this is not the case.



Carly Findlay OAM, writer, speaker, and appearance activist

I don’t often see face equality – that is – people with facial differences and skin conditions represented well, if at all, in the media. The media is filled with women who have beauty privilege, and it presses on women’s insecurities, selling us products to change our appearances. The media tells people like me that we don’t belong and that we need to change to fit in. 

I have ichthyosis, a rare severe skin condition. It causes my face and body to be red, and my skin to be itchy, painful and prone to infection. I didn’t see myself in beauty magazines when I was young. I still don’t. I didn’t think there was a place for me – because people with facial differences, scaly scalps and dry skin are framed as ugly and unworthy. Little Carly was too embarrassed to have my photo taken – because that would mean my perceived ugliness and unworthiness was there for everyone to see.

But now there’s social media – and anyone with a smartphone can allow themselves to be seen, which means everyone can see there’s diversity in appearances. We aren’t just limited to finding beauty in beauty magazines. We are creating face equality ourselves.

I put photos of myself on social media at least twice a week now. I appear on TV. I wanted my face to be on the cover of my book – unaltered – so that young people with ichthyosis can see what’s possible for them. And so that other people can stop being afraid.

A friend told me that her six year old daughter had seen me on TV, and wants to know how I made my face so pink and glittery (because she liked it). It was such a lovely thing to hear – a child seeing my difference as a positive, associated with beauty, rather than something to be feared. Well, it’s simple, I told her. Paraffin ointment. Ichthyosis. And a level of confidence that I wish Little Carly had.

I am not afraid to show my face anymore – in fact, I make a point of it. I want to show that I am worthy, that beauty comes in different ways, and to give permission to people with skin conditions, facial differences and disability to be visible. That’s how we will achieve face equality. When everyone is seen.

I want to show that I am worthy, that beauty comes in different ways, and to give permission to people with skin conditions, facial differences and disability to be visible.



Anika Molesworth, farmer and climate activist

Equality is about lifting each other up so we have a fair and just world. In agriculture, we’re pretty good about lending a hand to a mate. We should strive to create a place where we have equal rights, wellbeing and opportunities. That is a world where we all flourish and provide the support for each of us to reach our full potential.



Dr Rebecca Ray, clinical psychologist, author and speaker 

For me, equality means that my two-year-old son will grow up to expect that his female best friend from kindy, Bailey, will be valued, paid and respected in every area of life as he will be. It means that he won’t ever feel separate or excluded because he has two mums. And it means that he will only ever know gender as something personal to him, rather than something that defines the rights and entitlements of other human beings.



Tim Silverwood, Ex- CEO of Take 3 for the Sea, co-founder of Ocean Impact Organisation

When I think about equality, I think of balance. As a dedicated environmentalist my ‘big’ mission is to help restore balance to help humanity live in harmony with the natural world. It’s a cliche and a massive task. At the core of the current imbalance is man. Overt masculine dominance over people, animals and the natural world is leading us down a one-way path of self destruction, abhorrent behaviour and planetary abuse. If we wish to avert this dire trajectory the future must surely be female.



Harriet Spark, designer and environmentalist 

For me, equality means that equal opportunities are given to each and every one of us – regardless of who we are or where we come from. We’re slowly edging closer towards this kind of world, but for this to be a reality, societal pressures need to radically change. I can’t stop thinking about a now-viral video I watched a couple of days ago in which Cynthia Nixon reads a poem by Camille Raineville called ‘Be A Lady They Said.’ This video nails the unrealistic standards that continue to be placed on women globally, the kind of standards that are almost embedded in our society’s DNA.

“Take his last name. You hyphenated your name? Crazy feminist.” Cynthia reads in the video. Last year, I got married and my husband took my last name. When we told people about our decision, we were met with mixed responses. Some people thought it was wonderful, others laughed, but most were surprised. It reminded me that we’ve still got a long way to go in regards to equality. I am trying to ensure equality features in my life by flipping these kinds of societal expectations upside down, celebrating the successes of the women around me and aiming for collaboration instead of competition.



Kim Pearce, co-founder of The Possibility Project

I have a love of economics – so much so that I studied it, taught it and blindly believed in its orthodox teachings until the day I awakened to its numerical failings! It wasn’t one particular day, of course, it was that slow progress (which linear economics refuses to value) that comes with motherhood. I realised that I valued a subject that didn’t particularly value me. 

We are subject to a world that reduces the notion of equality to money and things – conversations regarding equality are often had around what some humans don’t have or don’t match up to. I used to teach the subject of scarcity (something that politicians live by), and it’s a consciousness that can completely undervalue the unseen worth in life.

As a woman and mother and sister and daughter, so much of what I do will never be valued by the traditional systems designed to uphold my ‘equality’. I no longer wish to fight for my equality within these systems – instead, I hope to be part of new systems that value the entire circle of life (some might call this the circular economy) and emphasise worthiness rather than equality.



Clare Press, presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast

The world’s yawning inequalities won’t fix themselves – in fact, they are getting worse. The rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. What I try to do with my sustainable fashion work is ask ‘who is not at the table?’ Of course, it’s often the garment worker. However, it is often Nature too. I find it useful to personify Nature, and, yes, to feminise her. I believe we should afford equal rights not only to all people, without discrimination, but to Nature too. Until we learn to do that, I fear that we will continue to wreck our only home. For me, International Women’s Day is a reminder that patriarchy and capitalism are locked together, and do not serve us. We need to design a new system that centres social and ecological justice. That way equality lies.

I believe we should afford equal rights not only to all people, without discrimination, but to Nature too.



Roz Campbell, founder of social enterprise Tsuno

The 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population. I find myself somewhere in the middle of these people, the 3.8 billion poorest, and the 26 richest.  

Because of gender equality in Australia I have an education, can run my own business, can drive a car, can access (reproductive) healthcare, I can travel on my own and I can afford to take care of myself. I have choices. How lucky am I? I try to remind myself of this lottery I’ve won and choose to work everyday to try to improve the situation for a tiny portion of the poorest 3.8 billion people by focusing on the most important tool there is for gender equality – education for girls. 

A wealth tax on the richest 1% would raise enough to educate every child not in school (about 262 million) and provide healthcare that would prevent three million deaths. How’s that for equality?



Guy Abrahams, co-founder and CEO of CLIMARTE and director of the Art+Environment consultancy

On International Women’s Day I give love and thanks to all the incredible women in my life: my wife Kim, daughters Mia and Nina, mother Christine and grandmothers Maryla and Ziona. They have inspired me to believe in a world where ‘equality’ means we are all deserving of kindness and compassion, with the opportunity and freedom to create our own place in this world, regardless of gender. Being human means being equal.



Stephanie Woollard OAM, founder and CEO Seven Women

To me equality means opportunity for all to reach our human potential. My life to date has been a quest to understand the world around me and how I can be part of the solution towards a better world. My life has been about following my passion to make a difference and to live into my potential. I have discovered by path by following my passion and creating a platform which creates opportunities for others to step up and step into their human potential.

I founded a charity at 22 years old called Seven Women, after seeing seven disabled women living in a dirty tin shed and hearing their stories of stigma which limited their potential. Seven Women has empowered over 6000 disabled and marginalised women in Nepal through education, skills training and employment while also creating opportunities for hundreds of volunteers to share their skills and contribute towards creating a better world and using their potential for positive change. 



Jennifer Nini, founder and editor-in-chief of Eco Warrior Princess

I fully agree with Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that ‘all men are created equal’. Every single person – no matter their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, disability, marriage status, class or religion – should have an equal opportunity to engage fully in the world and have the right to pursue their lives without being treated differently, discriminated against or harassed.

I know that the opportunities and freedoms I currently enjoy were hard won and I am thankful for the activists who have fought – and continue to fight – for gender and social equality. Had it not been for their work and determination, it’s unlikely that I, an immigrant from the Philippines, would be sitting here on my farm property in Queensland, expressing my thoughts and writing my views about equality, if the country’s highly discriminatory ‘White Australia Policy’ which prevented non-white immigrants from settling into this country had not been abolished a decade prior.

I also wouldn’t enjoy the freedom of choice I currently do without the women’s liberation movement seeking gender equality; the chance to pursue higher education, to marry or not, to have children or not, to vote, to have financial independence, to pursue jobs and trades of my own choosing – all these freedoms I owe to feminism and the achievement of progressive laws that protect my human rights.

But there’s still a long way to go to achieve political, economic and social rights for all people. Individuals may enjoy equal status in the eyes of the law, but the fight continues as unconscious and implicit biases still mean certain groups of individuals are favoured over others. Some individuals and groups are held back and aren’t given access to opportunities because of these stereotypes and hidden biases.

Over the last several years, I’ve been having discussions around diversity and inclusion in media, in fashion, in business and politics; to ensure that people in marginalised and minority communities (like me) have equal access to opportunities. And while there’s been a positive shift and organisations have improved ‘diversity’ – whether it be racial and ethnic diversity, or gender diversity, or age diversity – diversity in and of itself doesn’t automatically make people feel included or accepted, and discerning individuals can identify tokenistic efforts from the genuine thing. 

There is also still a power imbalance and an expectation to behave and think like those belonging in the dominant culture; there are penalties for those who express confronting opinions, who don’t conform to the expectations around their gender, their ethnicity, their age etc. Which is why in my business, Eco Warrior Princess, we hire writers from across the developed and developing worlds, with various lived experiences and backgrounds, to offer different perspectives and to keep me and the team accountable when covering sustainability and social justice topics. I don’t want these to be just conversations only in the reach of those who are socially and economically privileged. A lack of diversity and inclusion only perpetuates the status quo; if we truly seek environmental and social justice, we must give the mic to different people so that their voices and concerns are heard and acknowledged.

There is no doubt that I have been rewarded for my hard work and efforts, skills and abilities; that Peppermint has approached me about this subject is evidence that my voice matters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t face discrimination or unconscious biases. That doesn’t mean that others aren’t discriminated against because of where they are born, the colour of their skin, their religion and how they express their gender identity.

While some of us enjoy privileges and freedom of choice, not all of us do; and it will take all of us to challenge stereotypes, confront biases, broaden perceptions, break down barriers and make room for others. Then and only then will we have a truly equal world.

A lack of diversity and inclusion only perpetuates the status quo; if we truly seek environmental and social justice, we must give the mic to different people so that their voices and concerns are heard and acknowledged.