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Women's Bodies: Violence, Security, Capabilities

by Martha C. Nussbaum
Journal of Human Development ()


Violence against women is a global problem of great magnitude. After laying out some sample data on violence against women, I argue that this violence, and its ongoing threat, interferes with every major capability in a woman’s life. Next, I argue that it is the capabilities approach we need, if we are to describe the damage done by such violence in the most perspicuous way and make the most helpful recommendations for dealing with it. But the capabilities approach will be helpful in this area only if it develops effective arguments against cultural relativism and in favor of a context-sensitive universalism, and only if it is willing to make some claims, albeit humble and revisable, about which capabilities are most deserving of state protection, as fundamental entitlements of all citizens. Finally, I sketch some possible implications of the capability approach for public policy in this area.

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