Social Justice

Social Justice

  • What are the characteristics of the Capability Approach to social justice?

Social justice is a way of attaining fairness irrespective of differences in society. The most significant theoretical development over the past twenty years in the area of human rights has been the elaboration of the capability approach (Nussbaum, 2007). This approach supports the achievement of different human capabilities. One is life which means being able to live to the end of one’s life. Another capability is bodily health implying being in a position to have good health. Bodily integrity is also supported by this approach. This means being able to freely move between places, being free from assault and having opportunities to make decisions about issues of reproduction and sexual satisfaction. The capabilities approach also allows one to use the senses to think and reason and behave in a true human way, which is informed and supported by proper education (Nussbaum, 2007). There is also emphasis on emotions where one can have attachment to things and individuals outside themselves, show love and be loved. Furthermore, the capabilities approach encourages practical reason which means being in a position to understand good and take part in critical reflection on how can plan his life. Affiliation is also supported in the capabilities approach. This means being able to acknowledge and appreciate others. Emphasis is also laid on other species and this means being able to co-exist with plants, animals and nature. Last but not least, the approach encourages play. Finally, capability approach encourages control over the environment one’s lives in (Nussbaum, 2007). This means: being able to be effectively involved in political choices governing a person’s life; being in a position to own property.


1.2. What are the major advantages of this approach compared to a human rights approach?

There are different issues that the world has had to contend with including poverty, gender inequality, unemployment, migration and education among others. It is important to understand these issues in order to find the best way of addressing them. However, according to Pyles (2007), one method that can be used to analyze these issues is by using human rights approach and the capabilities approach as a means of understanding such global social challenges, social work practices and social welfare policies. Compared to the human rights approach, the capability approach has a number of advantages. This can be analyzed based on the issue of inequality. Based on the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, each and every person is entitled to all the rights and privileges presented herein, regardless of their race, color, sex, political and religious inclination, nationality, birth, language and social origin among others. In addition, there is no discrimination that will be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the territory or nation the person belongs. There are divergent views on whether understand of human rights can be successful in delivering social justice. Human rights approach can work to boost the welfare of the poor and marginalized. However, so as shift the needle, there must be more focus on redistribution of resources to help achieve the total enjoyment of human rights by each and every person. This idea is well captured in the capability approach. According to Nussbaum (2007), though capability approach is a subset of human rights approach, it focuses on the need to allow people function in different areas that are considered important. The capability approach has promoted the evaluation of women’s human rights. Moreover, it has pushed forward the evaluation of poor and rights of the disabled.

Most important is that the approach has called for material redistribution in different nations (Nussbaum, 2007). The capability approach has increased awareness that one cannot achieve the basis components of democracy in the absence of dealing with material issues like education and quality healthcare. Initially, this approach was created as a means of looking at countries and making comparisons between them. However, today, it is an important tool that can be used to tackling inequalities between countries. Nussbaum (2003) sums up everything by maintaining that the capabilities approach remains a strong tool that can help provide a better explanation of social justice. However, the bare notion of capabilities as an area in which comparisons are made and disparities evaluated is not sufficient. In order to have the kind of social justice which will have an impact on social policy, there is need to have an account of what the key human capabilities are, even when it is recognized that this account will be exposed to criticism and changes. Across the world, women are major proposals in public discourses. These proposals reflect their call for respect and equality. Even as the world awaits a day when these ideas will be wholly accepted, Nussbaum reiterates that capabilities approach would be one way of achieving women’s demands.










Nussbaum, M. (2007). Human Rights and Human Capabilities. Harvard Human Rights Journal I Vol. 20

Nussbaum, M. (2003). CAPABILITIES AS FUNDAMENTAL ENTITLEMENTS: SEN AND SOCIAL JUSTICE. Feminist Economics 9(2 – 3), 2003, 33 – 59

Pyles, L. (2006). Toward a Post-Katrina Framework: Social Work as Human Rights and Capabilities. Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, Vol. 22, No. 1, April 2006, pp. 79–88

‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’


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