Poverty in today’s society is a very challenging and difficult set of circumstances that are derived from a number of different sources. Poverty is a social problem that impacts individuals and families in many communities and mandates corrective action and further analysis. Capability deprivation is a more powerful approach for finding ways to fight poverty than a focus on raising the incomes of the poor alone; because capability deprivation is not solely related to income, as other factors are relevant. Some of these factors include age, location, gender and social status, all of which contribute to the capability deprivation approach (Sen, p.1). It is important to acknowledge that there are many variables within individual communities, and that conditions are not universal for all impoverished persons (Sen, p.1). Direct experience with individuals who face poverty and providing assistance to these individuals is a critical component of their ability to succeed in a given environment, even when income is not changed significantly. However, income is a significant factor and limitations on capability such as disability, are likely contributors to the level of income that an individual might earn (Sen, p.1.). In this manner, the capability approach is a more powerful sentiment than the income approach because there is significant potential which exists in many individuals that is never fully developed due to lack of opportunity and focus. Therefore, many people do not bring their vision to the world and earn the respect and income that they deserve. Nussbaum’s ten capabilities enhance Sen’s argument in promoting trust in the talents and abilities of individuals from different social classes and income levels.
Sen’s argument supports the belief that in some countries, the division of labor between the genders is very strong and impacts income and thus capability deprivation at a higher level (Sen, p.1). Sen also encourages the discussion of countries with a higher population of wealthy individuals that have impoverished individuals and groups, as the gap between the rich and the poor is so broad that poverty is bound to happen (Sen, p.2). These elements represent an evaluation of the different prospects for community inclusion and personal growth, which are likely to be severely limited for the impoverished (p.2). One of the most important concepts of this article is to recognize that poverty is not exclusively associated with the means (“i.e. income) but also the ends (“i.e. education, skill development”) (Sen p.2). The development of individuals is critical to their success and contributions to society and their personal and professionalgrowth, as their ability to achieve success is dependent on being noticed and gaining an opportunityto achieve success and subsequent income support. In this context, the author notes:
That since enhanced capabilities in leading a life would tend, typically, to expand a person’s ability to be more productive and earn a higher income, we would also expect a connection going from capability improvement to greater earning power and not only the other way around.
Nussbaum reaffirms the belief that gender equality is the focal point of Sen’s argument of capability deprivation. Gender equality is problematic in many societies, but should not exclude individuals from demonstrating their potentialto a larger audience. This argument supports the central concept of living with dignity and the level of social justice that each person should receive, using the 10 key capabilities (Nussbaum, p.4). Some of these key capabilities include health, integrity, reason, emotions, and affiliation, amongst others, and capture a greater understanding of how human beings live with dignity and have a greater sense of control over their lives (Nussbaum, p.4). Gender equality is of primary focus and must emphasize gender justice for all persons and these capabilities should facilitate their level of happiness and satisfaction with their lives (Nussbaum, p.4). Equally important, basic needs must be addressed and accounted for so that all persons have an opportunity to obtain at least the basic needs for daily living (Nussbaum, p.4). It is expected that some gender inequality will be associated with the limitations that are placed upon individuals due to circumstances such as care giving and limited potential for professional growth (Nussbaum, p.5). According to Nussbaum it is necessary for societies to not only recognize these inequalities but to address them in a manner that is consistent with social equality and justice for all (p.5). These practices represent a means of evaluating capabilities in terms of what is necessary for basic human survival, such as food, shelter, health and social well-being (Nussbaum, p.5).
Nussbaum’s evaluation of social justice requires members of society to better evaluate capabilities so that there are opportunities for individuals who might not have had a chance in the past to achieve successin an environment that is fully supportive of personal and professional growth (Nussbaum, p.7). In fact, these elements are essential to the ability of highly functional human beings to provide real and effective contributions to society in different ways (Nussbaum, p.7). Therefore, Nussbaum supports the notion that many human beings are capable of contributing to society if they have a chance to prove themselves, particularly when they are from lower income groups.
As mentioned before, Nussbaum enhances Sen’s capability approach by formulating 10 key principles which directly links to the multi-sided nature of human beings (p. 4) These assertions support Nussbaum’s perspective of children, as their overall development should be of critical importance because of its role in enhancing their capabilities (Boo, p.8). In this case, Nussbaum senses, imagination, thought, and emotion capabilities demonstrate a capacity to experience optimal development and growth. However, in a southern region of Louisiana, there are many beliefs that are not only debilitating to the population but also out dated and highly limiting this groups capability (Boo, p.8). Examples of this groups beliefs as described by Luwana,illustrate that this population suffers from weaknesses in some of the most common social norms, such as literacy and family values which intern limits a child’s social development. (Boo, p.8). An important point is that education plays an integral part in the lives of children; it gives children the knowledge to think, evaluate and to problem solve. A child learns not only through formal education but through social norms taught through everyday exposure in a community. Nussbaum believes that if you can increase a child’s social development, you in theory can impact other areas in that child’s life, such as social and critical thinking skills, this is an essential part of becoming a multi-sided person thus increasing their capabilities.This can directly impact their ability to transition out of poverty. In addition, many children are impoverished and have very little chance to overcome this condition unless they are provided with the tools and resources to improve their lives and to explore their capabilities more fully (Boo, p.8).
With the Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Luwana provides instructions in many basic areas to educate expectant mothers regarding basic needs as this practice supports the mother’s growth and development prior to the child’s birth (Boo p.8). In other words, by increasing the mother’s capabilitiesbenefits the child’s future growth and development. Moreover, for children who complete astructured educational program remain ahead of their peers in many ways (Boo, p.10). Therefore, these children have at least a greater chance of coming out of poverty through the actualization of their capabilities. (Boo, p.8).
Furthermore, Luwana’s experiences are well documented and provide further evidence that the challenges of residing in an impoverished community reach almost every area of daily living (Boo, p.8). For example, take the story such as Maggie’s who shares a home with 2 adults and 1 child, who works nights to support her family and yet her walls consist of stapled sheets (Boo p.11).Simply stated, income alone will not bring the poor out of their impoverished state. Maggie’s experiences are inspirational because they support the ambition of many of these children to escape from poor circumstances and to make something of themselves (Boo, p.10). Nonetheless, the regional culture remains difficult to change because the majority of residents do not know any better nor to make sense of their lives beyond their impoverished state (Boo, p.10). Another key point is the lack of knowledge and understanding of basic daily taskswhich is somewhat shocking until it is recognized that the children and adults in this region simply do not possess any greater level of knowledge to achieve better outcomes for themselves (Boo, p.11). This unfortunate series of events is tragic and inflicts harm not only on the health of these children and adults, but also in their ability to overcome their impoverished state, even with the assistance of others (Boo, p.11). These elements demonstrate that it is difficult for those in poverty to overcome their situations when there is a lack of acceptance in other social communities (Boo, p.12).
Equally important, Luwana’s accounts of the time spent in the swamps also supports the belief that many persons living in poverty do not understand how to better themselves or have been told for so long that they could not overcome their impoverished state that they simply gave up and gave in to what was in front of them (Boo, p.12). In addition, many of these people face heartbreaking circumstances because they do not necessarily know that the type of treatment that they receive from other members of society is unacceptable under many circumstances; rather, they simply view it as the norm (Boo, p.12). Without a doubt, this is perhaps capability deprivation of the greatest possible type because it prohibits individuals from taking steps to improve their lives and to make something of themselves beyond how they were raised or how they live currently (Boo, p.13).
In any case, these accounts are important reminders of the issues that those living in poverty face on a daily basis and that it is very difficult to overcome these circumstances without the knowledge and guidance of those who live by other means and who are willing to share their insights or to develop relationships with the impoverished.A significant example of this is the influence Luwana had on Maggie, by encouraging her to follow up with her child’s Hepatitis B test results (Boo, p. 13). Without the persistence of Luawna, Maggie may have chosen to continue to ignore the results thereby putting the child’s health and overall quality of life at risk.Many people living in poverty simply resign themselves to their circumstances because they are unaware that there is a way out and an opportunity to grow and thrive.Stated differently, the education and praise Luwana provided to Maggie helped her become a more diligent student of child development therefore increasing her ability to make better choices around parenting. Luwana’s present was a significant factor on Maggie’s ability to access care and treatment for her child (Boo, 13).These circumstances are particularly challenging for children, as they are raised in poverty and do not know anything else. This places a damper not only on their health and physical well-being, but it also breaks their spirit and they are unable to fight for better and happier lives. Boo believes that it is the responsibility of those persons in other groups to develop new opportunities for growth and change for the impoverished by taking the time that is necessary to better understand this population and to provide a greater sense of self-discovery and reflection for this group. For many of these people, it is possible that they have much greater potential than they are given the chance to show to the outside world. This is a difficult challenge to face and the reality of these circumstances is unfortunate and unacceptable. It is necessary for more citizens and caregivers like Luwana to take steps to provide the impoverished with a means of recognizing that they are able to do better and to make something of themselves in a different environment.
In conclusion, capability deprivation is a beginning to a better life and better set of circumstances for many people who live in poverty, particularly in communities where poverty is significant. This group grows larger by the day and faces tremendous challenges and adversity that other groups cannot even fathom in their lives. Therefore, it is necessary to develop programs and or other efforts that will enable those living in poverty, especially children, to have a greater chance at a better education, to make names for themselves and to contribute as a full functioning member of society. This creates an opportunity for individuals to realize that the treatment that they receive from the outside world is not always pleasant and that there are options to lead lives of improvement and fulfillment. This requires a critical understanding of the different elements which support effective outcomes for members of impoverished communities who have no other means of support or guidance beyond what they were taught by friends and family members. These efforts will support the ongoing development and growth of this population and its people towards lives of contentment and enjoyment.
Boo, Katherine. “Swamp Nurse”.The New Yorker. 06 Feb 2006. Print
Nussbaum, Martha. “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice.” Feminist Economics, 9, (2-3), 2003, 33-59. Print
Sen, Amartya. “Poverty as Capability Deprivation”. Development as Freedom. Random House Digital, Inc. 2011. Web. 5 May 2012.