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Why Gender Equality Does Not Always Work In The Bedroom

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Intrinsic egalitarians view equality as an intrinsic good initself. As pure egalitarians, they are concerned solely with equality,most of them with equality of social circumstances, according to whichit is intrinsically bad if some people are worse off than othersthrough no fault of their own. But it is in fact the case that we donot always consider inequality a moral evil. Intrinsic egalitariansregard equality as desirable even when the equalization would be of nouse to any of the affected parties — e.g. when equality can onlybe produced through depressing the level of everyone's life. Butsomething can only have an intrinsic value when it is good for atleast one person, i.e., makes one life better in some way oranother. The following “leveling-downobjectionindicates that doing away with inequality in fact ought to producebetter circumstances — it otherwise being unclear why equalityshould be desired. (For such an objection, cf. Nozick 1974, p. 229,Raz 1986, chap. 9, p. 227, 235, Temkin 1993, pp. 247-8.) Sometimesinequality can only be ended by depriving those who are better off oftheir resources, rendering them as poorly off as everyone else. (Foranyone looking for a drastic literary example, Kurt Vonnegut'sscience-fiction story Harrison Bergeron (1950) isrecommended.) This would have to be an acceptable approach accordingto the intrinsic concept. But would it be morally good if, in a groupconsisting of both blind and seeing persons, those with sight wererendered blind because the blind could not be offered sight? Thatwould in fact be morally perverse. Doing away with inequality bybringing everyone down contains — so the objection —nothing good. Such leveling-down objections would of course only bevalid if there were indeed no better and equally egalitarianalternatives available; and nearly always there are such: e.g. thosewho can see should have to help the blind, financially orotherwise. In case there are no alternatives, in order to avoid suchobjections, intrinsic egalitarianism cannot be strict, but needs to bepluralistic. Then intrinsic egalitarians could say there issomething good about the change, namely greater equality —although they would concede that much is bad about it. Pluralisticegalitarians do not have equality as their only goal; they also admitother values and principles — above all the principle ofwelfare, according to which it is better when people are doingbetter. In addition, pluralistic egalitarianism should bemoderate enough to not always grant equality victory in thecase of conflict between equality and welfare. Instead, it needs to beable to accept reductions in equality for the sake of a higher qualityof life for all (as e.g. with Rawls' difference principle).

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Iceland became the world‘s most gender-equal country through drastic measures. Australia needs to get radical if it wants to end systemic pay inequality.
The Danes’ nontraditional relationship ideals are further made evident in their liberal attitude toward sex. It is not uncommon for Danish men and women to talk about and even engage in sex in public places. During a dinner party with some Danish friends, I was shocked when one of the men turned to me and casually asked at what age I had lost my virginity. When I uncomfortably refused to answer, he teased me for being a “prude American.”


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Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

From the non-egalitarian vantage point, what is really at stake inhelping those worse off and improving their lot is humanitarianconcern, a desire to alleviate suffering. Such concern isunderstood as non-egalitarian. It is not centered on the differencebetween those better off and those worse off as such (whatever theapplied standard), but on improving the situation of persons in badcircumstances. Their distress constitutes the actual moral reason toact. The wealth of those better off only furnishes a means that hasto be transferred for the sake of mitigating the distress, as long asother, morally negative consequences do not emerge in the process. Thestrength of the impetus for more equality lies in the urgency of theclaims of those worse off, not in the extent of the inequality. Forthis reason, instead of equality the non-egalitarian critics favor oneor another entitlement theory of justice, such as Nozick's(1974) libertarianism (cf. 3.2. above) and Frankfurt's (1987)doctrine of sufficiency, according to which “What isimportant from the moral point of view is not that everyone shouldhave the same but that each should have enough. Ifeveryone had enough, it would be of no moral consequence whether somehad more than others” (Frankfurt 1987, p. 21).

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Another issue concerns the relations among generations. Does thepresent generation have an egalitarian obligation towards futuregenerations regarding equal living conditions? One argument in favorof this view might be that people should not end up unequally well offas a result of morally arbitrary factors. However, the issue ofjustice among generations is notoriously complex (Temkin 1992).

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A further question is whether the norms of distributive equality(whatever they are) apply to all individuals, regardless of where (andwhen) they live? Or rather, do they only hold for members ofcommunities within states and nations? Most theories of equality dealexclusively with distributive equality among people in a singlesociety. But there does not seem to be any rationale for thatlimitation. Can the group of the entitled be restricted prior to theexamination of concrete claims? Many theories seem to imply this whenthey connect distributive justice or the goods to be distributed withsocial cooperation or production. For those who contribute nothing tocooperation, such as the disabled, children, or future generations,would have to be denied a claim to a fair share. The circle ofpersons who are to be the recipients of distribution would thus berestricted from the outset. Other theories are less restrictive,insofar as they do not link distribution to actual socialcollaboration, yet nonetheless do restrict it, insofar as they bind itto the status of citizenship. In this view, distributive justice islimited to the individuals within a society. Those outside thecommunity have no entitlement to social justice. Unequal distributionamong states and the social situations of people outside theparticular society could not, in this view, be a problem of socialdistributive justice (Nagel 2005). Yet here too, the universalmorality of equal respect and the principle of equal distributiondemand that we consider each person as prima facie equally entitled tothe goods, unless reasons for an unequal distribution can be putforth. It may be that in the process of justification, reasons willemerge for privileging those who were particularly involved in theproduction of a good. But prima facie, there is no reason to excludefrom the outset other persons, e.g. those from other countries, fromthe process of distribution and justification (Pogge 2002). That mayseem most intuitively plausible in the case of natural resources(e.g. oil) that someone discovers by chance on or beneath the surfaceof his or her property. Why should such resources belong to the personwho discovers them, or on whose property they are located?Nevertheless, in the eyes of many if not most people, global justice,i.e., extending distributive justice globally, demands too much fromindividuals and their states (Miller 1998). The charge, open, ofcourse, to challenge, is one of excessive demands beingmade. Alternatively, one might argue that there are other‘special relationships’ among compatriots that do notexist across national borders. This (controversial) thesis isexemplified by nationalism, which may support a kind of local equality(Miller 1995).