Affirmative action was often presented as the opposite of equal treatment (formal equality). Equal treatment “focuses exclusively on formal rights of women in paid work, and thus fails to address the root causes of gender inequality in informal contracts between women and men” . In Sen’s terms, equal treatment derives from formal equality which does not take into account the differences between individuals. The purpose of affirmative action is not formal equality, but rather substantial equality, which allows preferential treatment. Substantial equality includes two forms: in results and in opportunity.Taking into consideration the criticism addressing affirmative action policies, we can say that these policies prioritize equality of outcomes though the imposed numerical quotas. According to Teresa Rees , affirmative action programmes emphasize equality of outcomes. Equality of opportunities focuses on the distribution of equal chances to achieve opportunities, thus allowing forms of preferential treatment for those in need. As Albert Mosley notes, contrary to the intentions of equality, identical treatment rather “perpetuates social disparities than eliminating social determined ones” . Thus, equal treatment is different from equality of opportunities and, conversely, the former may result in undermining the latter. This difference maintains the conflicting aspect between difference feminism and equity feminism .
Moreover, political intervention “is important not only to meet the needs, but [especially] to formulate these needs” . Focusing the discourse on equality in public sphere / work place determines the following effect, noted by Sen : claims of equality in a domain lead to anti-egalitarianism in another domain. We cannot ignore the fact that women are the main carer taker for dependants (children, elderly, people with handicaps or those with illness, etc). Their caregiving work is not taken into account by society as a whole as it is made without pay . Moreover, argues Nussbaum , a just society must provide “care for those in a state of dependency without exploiting women” and without denying women the right to education, paid work, etc. The fact that most policies that aim to reach equality between men and women are focused on education and employment, the main areas of the public sphere, is stressed also by Susan Moller Okin , who criticises economists’ lack of interest on the internal distributions within the family.