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Martha Nussbaum Summary
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Article: Women and Work, the Capabilities Approach 

In this article Martha Nussbaum explains her capabilities approach; to creating an international set of standards with which everyone can assess a person quality of life. Nussbaum sets the stage for her argument by introducing us to two women living very different lives in India, Vasanti and Jayamma. Nussbaum explains their current individual circumstances and how they got there and after much explanation and several definitions later uses them as a great conclusion and follow-through to how the approach can work.



After our introduction to these women, Nussbaum explains that in the paper she will address the cross-cultural issues that come up when trying to create an international quality of standard and then systematically criticize each notion and obstacle and then present the capabilities approach. The first part of the paper is dedicated to the three obstacles the international community presents to discredit the ability to create cross-cultural normative values. These include the argument for the preservation of culture, appreciation of diversity and paternalism. Subsequently she takes each one of these arguments and flips them around to say that a cross-cultural approach can actually help answer the questions proposed by culture clashes and helps us sort out traditional practices from those that are around because they always were and those that are valuable to sustaining the culture itself.



Nussbaum has created a list of 10 Central Human Functional Capabilities from Amartya Sen who pioneered a quality of life assessment based within economics. Nussbaum states that her capabilities approach has many different aspects of Sen's original document but acknowledges her approach as a jumping off point. The core point in Nussbaum's approach is that human beings should shape their free lives on their own rather than having their lives shaped around them by the world they live in. This basic statement is the foundation for the ten capabilities along with the 3 types of capabilities: basic, internal and combined.



Nussbaum closes that section by explaining that to create an international cross-culture set of normative values needs to express more than just liberty and rights but the ability for people to exercise those rights and feel safe doing so. She explains that a cross cultural normative account that "...focuses on empowerment and opportunity what is a woman actually able to do and be..." The capabilities approach focuses on this proponent. It does not judge a persons current status or what they might choose to do once they have the ability to have choice. It only chooses to create a list of basic normative values to fit the idea that every human being needs an environment in which they can have the capability to be what they want and resources to back up their aspirations. Nussbaum argues that this approach treats people as human beings that need to be treated with dignity and respect without pushing boundaries of culture and government. She explains that although creating a list of rights seems reasonable to most readers it alienates a population that has rights stated in writing but do not have the resources or social structure to actually use the rights supposedly given to them. This set up can only cause women more distress and continue to perpetuate the abuses that so frequently affect womens lives.











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