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. [...]
[...] Therefore, I will present two examples of how Nussbaum's Capabilities Approach could be used: one example will focus on India, since Nussbaum has already tried to justify its use there, and the other example will center on a so-called Western country, the United States, in order to show that the theory can apply to all nations at any stage of development. While Nussbaum's theory is very clear on paper, it is difficult to see how it could be implemented in a society like India all at once. [...]
[...] Thus, even though America has secured many important capabilities for women, such as the right to a life of normal length, the right to an education, the right to own property and participate fully in political activities, and the right to enjoy leisure activities, a few of the most basic capabilities are not promoted. Therefore, the capabilities approach is still very relevant to the United States and its issues involving women's rights. As Nussbaum herself says, list of the central capabilities is not a complete theory of justice” (Women and Human Development, p. [...]
[...] However, she also notes that these objections “Oversimplify traditions, ignoring countertraditions of female defiance and strength, ignoring women's protests against harmful traditions, and in general forgetting to ask women themselves what they think of these norms, which are typically purveyed, in tradition, through male texts and the authority of male religious and cultural leaders, against a background of women's almost total economic and political disempowerment” (p. 42). Therefore, Nussbaum believes that since these traditions concern women and their freedoms, they should take women's desires, needs, and opinions into consideration. [...]
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