Capabilities Approach

Essay 1: Human Rights in Development
How might the ???capabilities approach??™ affect one??™s view of ???economic development??™

Economic development is a broad term that generally refers to the sustained, concerted effort of policymakers and community to promote the standard of living and economic health in a specific area . Many approaches of economic development ignore the reality that how people live their lives and the ???kinds of services and institutions that they have access to, are potentially just as important as, and tied in to, their annual income??™ (Pyles, 2008). Poor and low-income individuals are ???at risk and have low func?¬tioning not just because they have no money, but because they may lack certain freedoms or capabilities??™ (Sen, 1999). This idea is the basis of the capabilities approach. In this essay the capabilities approach will be critically analysed, using the example of international women??™s rights as a vessel to prove how ones view of economic
development can be affected by this approach.

While many theories of welfare argue that positive outcomes, such as individuals ???working in the formal wage-labour sector??™ or ???achieving an income above the poverty??™ are central to well-being, the capabilities approach emphasizes that equality of opportunity is what matters most for human welfare (Pressman and Summerfield, 2000). The capabilities also argues that while providing primary goods to a society is an important and basic need, the use an individual can make on these primary goods ???depends crucially on a number of contingent circumstances, both personal and social??™ (Rawls, 1971). These two key aspects of the capabilities approach demonstrate that this view examines an individuals level of opportunity, freedom and ???ability to choose??™ as a central measure of welfare. To Nussbaum (2000), this measure of welfare is based on 10 central human capabilities, namely: life; bodily health; bodily integrity; senses, imagination, and thought; emotions; practical reason; affiliation; other species; play; and control over one??™s environment. In compared to the traditional values of economic development, such as receiving a certain income or owning land and property, it is clear how the capabilities approach can affect ones view of economic development.
Nussbaum??™s 10 central human capabilities draw on feminist concerns and are much broader than other theorists such as Sen??™s. In line with Nussbaum??™s view this paper will use violence against women as a way of demonstrating how the deprivation of capabilities can affect ones access to certain institutions, their ability to generate income and ???their economic and overall welfare??™ (Pyles, 2008). Pyles states that traditionally social and economic development approaches ???have rarely incorporated the unique realites of poor women into their blueprints, particularly the special concerns of women who are victims of violence??™. Sadly, this is the case despite the fact that women represent the majority of people living in poverty (Pyles, 2008).
Women who experience violence (physically, sexually and/or emotionally) are likely to have more trouble to achieve ???full functioning in the world??™ (Pyles, 2008) as violence limits access to certain institutions and takes away capabilities. According to Pyles, this is as a result of the emotional damage of ???fear, shame and isolation??™ affecting a women??™s health and mental health and hence limiting their ability to generate income. Research conducted on the women who have been abused and their economic well being has found that ???a critical reason so many women remain with or return to their assailants is a lack of access to community resources, specifically, housing, legal assistance, employment, education, finances, childcare and social support systems??™ (Sullivan, 1991). A women??™s reliance on an abusive partner (or other abusive figures) creates multiple barriers to outside social support systems as they stay in abusive relationships for economic reasons (Sullivan, 1991).
These barriers become even more unyielding as the female biological role of child bearing and child care leads to unpaid work. This isolation from paid work means many women, particularly in developing countries, have limited access to money, education and social support. Here we can see a cycle of low standards of living, where women are economically reliant on others and therefore unable to become independent and create their own economic welfare.
The capabilities approach identifies this ???cycle??™ of violence against women, as capability deprivation, ???arguing that social policies ought to provide social structures necessary to achieve capabilities??™ (Pyles, 2008). Pyles, states that traditional methods of ???empowerment, strengths or medical models, have often failed to address the deeper poverty and social development issues that accompany violence against women??™. The main goal is to encourage women affected by violence, and other women trapped in low standards of living, to be independent in their economic well-being. This means providing services ???for women working in both the formal and informal sectors??¦.[including] child care, support groups, legal advocacy and other supplements??™ (Sullivan, 1991) giving them the capability to access their own sense of economic welfare.

Using this example of violence affecting the economic well-being of women by limiting their capabilities is a prime illustration of the essence of capabilities approach. It demonstrates that other ???social development approaches, welfare policies and antipoverty strategies??™, which focus on the idea that an increase in income or the material wealth of households is ??¦the primary goal of social development??™ often ignore human well-being and human rights. Further, these traditional economic development approaches fail to recognize that ???how people live their lives and the kind of services and institutions that they have access to are potentially just as important as??¦their annual income??™ (Pyles, 2008). The capabilities approach can affect ones view of economic development by providing this alternative view, that poor and low income individuals are at risk and have low functioning not just because they have no money, but because they lack certain freedom, access and capabilities (Sen, 1999).

Nussbaum, M. (2000) Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pyles, L. (2008). The capabilities approach and violence against women: Implications for social development. International Social Work, 51, 25??“36
Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf
Sullivan, C. M. (1991) ???The Provision of Advocacy Services to Women Leaving Abusive Partners: An Exploratory Study,??™ Journal of Interpersonal Violence 6(1)