Women, Corporeal Mobility and Capabilities: A Case Study of Women in Karachi

Shirazi, Asima (2014). 'Women, Corporeal Mobility and Capabilities: A Case Study of Women in Karachi' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The aim of this paper is to understand the lives of ordinary women living in the poor urban slums of Karachi.  The study purports to investigate the reasons for which women travel outside the home, the frequency of such travel, the means of transport used and the maximum distance travelled.  Freedom of movement is a fundamental capability that every individual should possess.  Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 declares that 'everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state' (Sager 2006).  If women are denied the freedom of movement then their capabilities are being curtailed which will impact their functionings.   

There are a multitude of factors that can restrict the physical mobility of women.  Some of these factors relate to the safety of the environment in which women reside and the means of transport available whilst others are related to the social, cultural and religious norms that guide a community or household. 

The theoretical foundations of this research are based on the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.  The Capability Approach, as developed by Sen provides a useful framework for discussing social justice.  It facilitates the comparison of individuals who may have access to the same set of 'commodities' but the 'functionings' they achieve can vary. 

'Functionings are part of the condition of a person – in particular the various things that he or she manages to do (or be) in leading a life.  The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can attain, and from which he or she can choose one collection.  The assessment           of welfares and of freedoms can be related to the functionings achieved and to the capability to achieve them.' (Sen 2008 p23).

Included in the ten Central Capabilities listed by Nussbaum (2011, pp.33-34) is 'Bodily integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence…'  Although freedom of movement is considered only a part of the capability of bodily integrity but it is a significant capability that can affect the achievement of other capabilities and functionings.  A specific list of capabilities for gender equality has been drawn up by Robeyns (2003) which consists of fourteen capabilities.  Mobility is included as a separate capability and not part of bodily integrity. 

There are several studies that examine the link between mobility and social exclusion.  A study by Uteng (2006) examines mobility among non-western immigrants inNorway.  The conclusion is that mobility provides the capability to become integrated in society.  The absence of mobility could lead to social exclusion.  Another study by Ureta (2008) focused on 20 low-income families residing in a housing estate in Santiago.  Three in depth interviews were conducted with all adult members of the 20 selected families.  They were asked about the importance of mobility in their everyday lives. They were asked about the places they go to and the mode of transport used.   It was concluded that mobility patterns show the effect of social exclusion on the daily life of family members.

This paper will investigate the factors that facilitate or restrict the mobility of women in poor urban communities of Karachi and how women cope with this lack of corporeal mobility which impacts their capabilities and functioning. Data about the women's own characteristics, household characteristics and external factors such as the community they belong to and the locality they reside in will be gathered.  Information about the reason for travel and the mode of transport used will also be collected.  The underlying reason for collecting this data will be to identify how the capabilities and functionings of women are affected by their ability or lack thereof to travel freely outside their homes.  A questionnaire based survey of approximately three hundred women residing in different communities will be carried out.  In addition  in-depth interviews with thirty women will be conducted.   Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum's Capability Approach provides the framework for this analysis.

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