The Lexical Priority of Rights: Basic Capabilities vs. Poverty Eradication
The feminization of poverty is a phenomenon in which women represent the majority of the world’s poor. The “cycles of poverty” is reinforced by the growing gender inequality between men and women. Impoverished women in developing countries are particularly vulnerable in which they are often deprived of political and decision-making rights as well as basic services, such as healthcare and education. Feminist theorists have attempted to analyze this phenomenon in order to further comprehend the fundamental causes for the vulnerability of women. Martha Nussbaum argues that the feminization of poverty is primarily due to the failure of governments to provide women with their basic capabilities. Susan Moller Okin argues that Nussbaum’s capabilities approach is insufficient in addressing the vulnerability of impoverished women, and that the protection of social and economic rights will break the gendered cycle of poverty. This paper will argue that the provision of basic capabilities and individual rights ought to trump social and economic rights in order to combat the fundamental problems of gender inequality. Through the examination of the Capabilities Approach and Okin’s critique of it, this paper will show that basic individual rights must be provided prior to the attainment of socioeconomic rights.
II. Women and the Capabilities Approach
The effects of poverty on women have been detrimental especially with the rise of globalization in which the dynamics of economic neoliberalism has widened the inequality gap between men and women, particularly in the developing world. Gender disparities have not only been a consequence of wage discrimination and occupational segregation; however, it has also infringed on the basic rights of women and their pursuit of what one perceives to be the ‘good’ life. According to Nussbaum, the dominant economic theories and polices, often measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), have ultimately ignored the most basic human needs for dignity and self-respect, especially for women. In order to counter such entrenched social injustices, she argues that governments ought to build basic capabilities in order to provide individuals with the capacity to fulfill one’s human dignity. She claims that her capabilities approach is pertinent in “understanding both the vulnerability of women to poverty and the vulnerability of poor women” in that building a woman’s capacity in order for her to freely choose the life she wishes to lead ultimately deconstructs the cyclical nature of poverty and ensures real and equal opportunity.
Nussbaum’s list of capabilities includes “having a normal life span, adequate food, shelter, bodily security and the social basis of self-respect.” Capabilities also include the provision of certain opportunities, such as the capacity to support oneself through work (entailing income for one’s labour),...