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A Defense of the Capabilities Approach

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Aubrey K.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Nussbaum argument on an effective feminist
    1. Nussbaum and other feminists
    2. Nussbaum's view of the anti-Western critique
  3. Devalue women's contributions and abilities
  4. Nussbaum and relativism
    1. The idea of relativism in todays world
    2. Nussbaum and moral relativism
  5. The view that her arguments are paternalistic
    1. Nussbaum's claim that many laws are in themselves paternalistic
  6. Nussbaum's theory and its implementation in a society like India
    1. Trying to secure access to education and protection against discrimination
    2. The need for ending the devaluation of women in India
  7. The need for the US to focus on promoting a more balanced view of sexual health
  8. Conclusion
  9. Works cited

There is no country in the world where women are treated equally to men. Women are consistently fed less than men, given fewer educational opportunities, and fewer freedoms. Situations in developing countries are often more overtly detrimental to women, for example in India, it is estimated that ?one woman is raped every 54 minute, and rape cases increased 32% between 1990 and 1997? (Nussbaum quoting India Abroad, Women and Human Development, p. 3). However, women's inequality is not simply a ?Third World? issue; it is a problem that affects women's lives every day in nearly every country. For example, a similar type of statistic can be found for the United States: ?Every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted?. Obviously the occurrence of rape in America is much higher than that of India, especially since India has a population about four times as large as the United States. While looking at these numbers, which in no way reflect the magnitude of problems women face, one must ask, how can women flourish if they cannot be assured basic bodily integrity and freedom from harm? Martha Nussbaum seeks to try and provide a theory to answer this question. Her Capabilities Approach establishes ten capabilities that Nussbaum believes are necessary for women to have the ability to fight inequalities or at least to secure a stable life for themselves.

[...] She emphasizes the fact that cultures are not homogeneous; they instead have a very diverse variety of opinions, and the support of traditional values for women may only be one of many beliefs. Moreover, Nussbaum believes that moral relativism asks people to follow or tolerate local traditions, which tend not to be relative. Most cultural norms are not defined relatively by the people practicing them, but as absolutes. Therefore, Nussbaum asserts that relativism makes ?each tradition the last and by following relativistic principles, deprive ourselves of any more general norm of toleration or respect that could help us limit the intolerances of cultures? (p. [...]


[...] Nussbaum's emphasis on people only needing the capability to play, meaning that they have the opportunity to pursue leisure activities, but they do not necessarily have to is part of what makes the Capabilities Approach seem so acceptable. This is because we want to respect people's right to choose if they want to go to school or if they want to get married, etcetera. However, some of her capabilities seemed to be intrinsically linked to their functioning, that it becomes too difficult to separate them. [...]


[...] Thus, I would suggest introducing more basic capabilities into Indian legal systems first, and then once those are secured, the focus can shift to capabilities that necessarily require a recognition of value and autonomy, such as compulsory primary and secondary education or the right to own property. I think this process is necessary because by introducing basic capabilities first, women's status should improve, and therefore, make it easier to introduce other capabilities. While Nussbaum focuses her theory on women in developing countries, I would also like to explore how this theory can apply to a country like America. [...]

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