Back to Index
rights and capability
from Pambazuka News 320
September 20, 2007
It is reassuring
when one can assume the protection of a large body of international
instruments espousing values about rights and freedoms for all members
of humanity. But how do these noble documents translate into the
lives of ordinary people, in particular the lives of the poor and
powerless who need the greatest protection?
They seem particularly
abstract and remote at the moment for the lives of most ordinary
Zimbabweans, many of whom are struggling to merely survive, or are
scrambling to escape from the prevailing political chaos. And in
Zimbabwe, it is not only the poor and powerless who are disadvantaged
- it is everybody.
The severe deterioration
in the human rights record of Zimbabwe has led to a situation where
no one-s rights are any longer guaranteed. With the breakdown
of law and order, any rights afforded are done so at the whim of
the state. Government appears invincible, and no one, inside or
outside Zimbabwe, seems able to hold it to account. At present,
it appears there is little else that we can do other than sit tight,
hope for the best, and when the worst happens, make a plan.
But human rights
organisations such as GALZ
cannot become dormant; they exist and are responsible for bringing
about change for the better.
It is easy to
argue that GALZ is unique in that it is the only organisation specifically
catering to the needs of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe. Ergo GALZ is
too small to make any significant impact within the broader environment.
But if GALZ disappeared over night, would it make any noticeable
answer is yes, at least for the few hundred members of GALZ, most
of whom, according to an evaluation conducted by the Dutch agency
Hivos of the Southern African LGBTI programme, feel that their confidence
has been boosted since joining the association. They have 'learnt
something- and have benefited from the association-s
services. But as members of the general population, the quality
of life for GALZ members is surely still deteriorating.
society, GALZ has certainly made significant inroads into being
at least 'tolerated- within the NGO world, although
there is often still a reluctance to mainstream LGBTI issues within
these organisations' programmes, not necessarily because of any
overt homophobia but because of fears of reprisal from the state.
of GALZ is unfortunate, although it does make the organisation even
more relevant to those it serves. As far as government is concerned,
GALZ is at an impasse and has basically given up.
GALZ may seem
small and insignificant but human rights are not about numbers.
In fact, human rights exist as much to protect minorities from the
excesses of the majority as they do to protect populations from
excesses of the state. The struggle for the promotion of a human
rights culture is not a linear process. Small and often unforeseen
victories often turn out to be as important as any major breakthrough.
Just hanging on in there and waiting for a chance to seize is a
valid enough reason to exist.
It could be
argued that attitudes towards LGBTI rights are a litmus test for
any democracy: the burst of government attacks on gay and lesbian
people, starting in early 1995, marked the start of a new phase
in the serious national decline we now find ourselves in. They ought
to have been a warning signal that things were about to get worse.
organisations should never remain inert, even in the face of apparent
demoralising failure to achieve anything positive. They need to
be strong, refuse to capitulate and instead espouse a culture of
hope, even if this is only among a limited few.
With the worsening
humanitarian crisis in the country, GALZ has tried to be imaginative
and seek the best ways in which to remain relevant, both to the
lives of its members, and within broader society. It has been equally
cautious to avoid encouraging feelings of dependency amongst its
membership, which in the long term benefit no one.
In recent years,
the organisation has also fought against its detractors using the
LGBTI issue to deflect attention away from the real problems of
Zimbabwe, preferring not to be reactive towards homophobia, but
instead proactive in putting out positive publicity about LGBTI
issues, albeit it in a limited way.
A welcome break
came in 2006 when GALZ was introduced by the Kosmopolis Institute
of the University for Humanistics in Utrecht to the 'Capability
Approach' developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. This is
a conceptual framework which attempts to measure the ability of
a human being to enjoy his or her life, both in terms of drawing
on what is available within the broader social environment, and
in terms of an individual-s personal capacity to benefit from
his or her surroundings.
Approach is not an alternative to the human rights discourse: it
could be described as the flip side to the same coin. As its name
suggests, the difference lies more in the approach, focusing as
it does on the way in which human rights translate into meaningful
experience. The ten basic capabilities are particularly relevant
to situations where human rights are denied. They help measure an
individual-s ability to cope and perhaps even flourish under
difficult circumstances. They are summarised as follows:
- Life. Being
able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying
prematurely, or before one's life is so reduced as to be not worth
- Bodily Health.
Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to
be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.
- Bodily Integrity.
Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against
violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence;
having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters
- Senses, Imagination,
and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and
reason - and to do these things in a 'truly human' way, a way informed
and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means
limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training.
Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing
and producing works and events of one's own choice, religious, literary,
musical, and so forth. Being able to use one's mind in ways protected
by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political
and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able
to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain.
Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves;
to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence;
in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude,
and justified anger. Not having one's emotional development blighted
by fear and anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting
forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their
Reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage
in critical reflection about the planning of one's life. (This entails
protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)
Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show
concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social
interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another. (Protecting
this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and
nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom
of assembly and political speech.)
Having the social
bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; being able to be treated
as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This
entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin.
- Other Species.
Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals,
plants, and the world of nature.
- Play. Being
able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
- Control over
Being able to participate effectively in political choices that
govern one's life; having the right of political participation,
protections of free speech and association.
Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods), and
having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the
right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having
the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being
able to work as a human being, exercising practical reason and
entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with
is problematic in Zimbabwe to maintain 'control over one-s
environment-, this in no way diminishes the relevance of the
other nine capabilities to the work of an organisation such as GALZ.
It is precisely because of the lack of political freedoms that Zimbabwe
is now in crisis and plunging into deeper decline and poverty and
why other measures of progress need to be taken into consideration.
The GALZ social
empowerment programmes, Skills for Life and the Women-s Scholarship
Programme, are obvious examples of the application of the Capability
Approach, although the organisation adopted them prior to its being
aware of this philosophy.
could be argued that the 'Positive Image' access to treatment scheme
has encouraged dependency, it has nevertheless saved and given extended
quality to the lives of those who would otherwise have died of Aids.
It may seem
trivial for a philosophy to incorporate the ability to laugh, play
and enjoy recreational activities. But in an oppressive political
and homophobic climate, merely offering safe space to relax in is
not something to be denigrated. The very existence of the GALZ Centre
and the safe space it offers is an encouraging symbol of hope, although
there are questions about whether it is enough to provide just a
place to drink and dance. To balance this, GALZ has now instituted
a programme of entertainment, including sporting activities designed
to provide greater variety in members- lives.
In 2006, GALZ
started to move away from serious workshops which, in the past,
it has felt obligated to provide as part of fulfilling a mandate
that was seen as serious. Although workshops still have their place,
the more informal, relaxed group discussions have proved highly
popular, since most participants see these opportunities to talk
and share ideas as liberating and a chance to express opinions freely,
and be treated with respect. And just listening to the experiences
of others trying to cope with family pressures can be more helpful
than a formal workshop on relationships when it comes to dispelling
feelings of confusion and doubt.
development of a human being is as important as his or her physical
protection. The increasing professionalism of GALZ-s counselling
services means that members are receiving meaningful help in dealing
with emotional problems. By the same token, the annual women-s
retreat has proved an invaluable space in which women can open up,
often about painful emotional experiences, and gain support from
others. But it is often the casual conversations in the health department
or the recreational activities of a retreat that help the most.
In all, the
Capability Approach is proving useful for determining the ability
of GALZ members to reach their full capacity as humans, whether
or not they are denied fundamental freedoms such as freedom from
hunger and freedom of expression. Many members have used GALZ as
a stepping stone to make significant improvements in their lives.
Those who have escaped and sought asylum elsewhere can be included
in this. This is at it should be. In the wider context, if GALZ
were to disappear overnight, LGBTI people in the rest of Africa
and the world would be devastated: they would have lost a close
member of the family and a strong source of inspiration to continue
fighting for justice for all LGBTI people throughout the world.
* Keith Goddard
is a human rights defender and a member of GALZ Zimbabwe.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.