The flip side of equal opportunity is discrimination. Discrimination is when people are not given the opportunity to do something based on their race, sex, class, gender, religious preference, appearance, or disability. Historically, past human civilizations and societies have been rife with discrimination. It has only been relatively recently that women have been given the same rights and opportunities as men with regards to the workplace and voting. The same is true of African-Europeans and other ethnic groups. However, current laws have been passed to provide an equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of their race, color, or sex.
The idea of having an equal opportunity is very closely related to the concept of a ‘meritocracy.’ A meritocracy is a system based on the idea of individuals being rewarded on the basis of their efforts and good work, rather than through favoritism or nepotism (showing favoritism to relatives regardless of merit). By having the best and most talented people in positions of employment rather than someone who doesn’t have the talent or skills necessary (but who got appointed by favoritism), businesses and economies can significantly benefit. Therefore, it is in the interests of any nation or society to give their citizens equal opportunities.
Equal Opportunities for Women in Europe
Despite more and more women in Europe getting the same opportunities as men in the workplace, at home is a different story. Around 80% of women in Europe do housework every day, compared to only 40% of men. Despite the figures improving for women being employed in the same or similar jobs as men in Europe, there does still seem to be a ‘glass ceiling’ when it comes to the very best jobs. In Sweden for example, out of 269 managing directors of listed companies, only eight of these directors are women – which is highly disproportionate.
Affirmative action is an attempt to promote equal opportunities. It usually takes the form of a policy or law, which means that minority groups are included in all programs within a society. However, although this is a good idea in principle, it does mean that sometimes, a person from a minority group will get a job just to fill the affirmative action policy quota, and someone else could miss out just because they are not in a minority group. Some people in Europe find this unfair and feel that it does not represent a true equal opportunity.