De capability approach als normatief-evaluatief kader voor sociale interventies: Kwalitatief onderzoek in India met inzichten voor de Vlaamse en Nederlandse praktijk



De capability approach als normatief-evaluatief kader voor sociale interventies: Kwalitatief onderzoek in India met inzichten voor de Vlaamse en Nederlandse praktijk

In deze kwalitatief-empirische casestudy wordt de Capability Approach (CA) gehanteerd voor het evalueren van sociale interventies van de Indiase NGO Women Helpline ten opzichte van partnergerelateerd seksueel misbruik. Er werden 12 diepte-interviews en één groepsgesprek afgenomen met medewerkers van Women Helpline en slachtoffers van seksueel misbruik. Daarnaast werden twee semigestructureerde focusgroepen met tien mannelijke en tien vrouwelijke studenten georganiseerd. De analyse bracht een opvallende empowerment-paradox aan het licht tussen “well-being freedom” en “agency freedom”. Die paradox benadrukt de invloed van subjectieve en structurele factoren op de realisatie van welzijn. We besluiten dat wanneer de CA wordt ingezet als evaluatief kader voor sociale interventies het belangrijk is om bij onsuccesvolle interventies te kijken naar de externe invloeden die het individu beperken in zijn/haar agency freedom of de keuzes die hij/zij maakt ter realisatie van een waardig leven. Zo blijkt dat sommige vrouwen berusten in of zelfs kiezen voor een gewelddadige of objectief ongunstige partnerrelatie, ook na interventies en bewustmaken van hun mogelijkheden (verhoging well-being freedom), omdat deze vrouwen willen voldoen aan de patriarchale waarden in de samenleving. Ten slotte is de transfer van de resultaten naar de Nederlands-Vlaamse Eigen Kracht methodiek en algemene sociaal werk praktijk een belangrijke betrachting van het artikel.


Utilizing the Capability Approach as a normative-evaluative framework for social interventions: Qualitative research in India with insights for social work practice in the Netherlands and Flanders 

The Capability Approach is a broad normative framework used to evaluate individual wellbeing, the development of a country, and gender inequalities. Den Braber (2013) argued in an article published in the Journal of Social Intervention that the CA can be used as an evaluative instrument for social policies, arrangements, and actions. As an evaluative instrument, the CA takes various aspects of the well-being process into account: resources, client conversion factors, sets of capabilities, freedom of choice, and sets of functionings. This makes the CA more comprehensive than other well-being approaches, such as welfarism, which mainly focuses on “happiness”, and resourcism, which primarily focusses on “primary goods”. The aim of this study is to explore whether and how the CA can function as an evaluative framework for social interventions for cases of partner-related sexual abuse by the Indian NGO Women Helpline (WHL). We also aim to make recommendations for social work practice in India, Flanders, and the Netherlands. The study adopts a qualitatively grounded theory of research methodology in the analysis of 12 in-depth interviews and two focus groups. The respondents include the director of the WHL, its coordinator, benefactor, social workers, an external advocate, and victims of partner-related sexual abuse. In addition, two semi-structured focus groups – with 10 male students and 10 female students – were organized by the Xavier Institute of Social Service. Before we discuss the findings of the study in more detail, we first distinguish two different forms of partner-related sexual abuse. The first form of sexual abuse is “sexual violence” and can be defined as rape and other forms of non-consensual sexual intercourse. The second form is “sexual abuse under the false promise of marriage”. This type of abuse is unique to Indian society as it reflects the stigma that women face if they lose their virginity before marriage. If a man ends a sexual relationship with a woman after promising to marry her, this is considered abuse. We focus on the latter definition of sexual abuse because the majority of the WHL’s clients who had a partner-related sexual abuse charge could be identified under that definition. It is important to mention that in order to make the CA more suitable as an evaluative framework for social interventions, we adapted two of Sen’s original concepts: “individual resources” and “individual capabilities”. We redefined resources as the finances, goods, and services of the organization. We did not change the definition of capabilities, which are the real opportunities that a person has to lead the life he/she has reason to value. In this study, we focus on the real opportunities for women to lead a dignified life without a sexually abusive relationship with a partner. The difference with other frameworks is that in this study we investigate the WHL’s interventions as opportunity-enhancers for women to escape from or cope with a sexually abusive partner relationship. The main results of the study were revealed during the evaluation of interventions in the women’s social and environmental factors (or conversion factors), capabilities, and freedoms of choice. The results on freedoms of choice were particularly interesting. We introduce the term “empowerment-paradox”, a paradox between well-being freedom and agency freedom. Well-being freedom is the ownership and awareness of the capabilities that a person has. Agency freedom is the ability to choose between several capabilities, influenced by the context in which one lives. We found that the WHL promotes agency freedom in such a way that it promotes patriarchal values, for example by supporting a woman’s choice to enter into an arranged marriage with their abuser. We argue that this choice is an “adaptive preference” and a survival mechanism in Indian society, rather than the woman’s objective or counterfactual choice of a dignified life. On the other hand, the WHL promotes well-being freedom through various outreach and counselling methods which contribute to the empowerment and knowledge of abused women. We argue that while NGOs enhance the well-being of the victims of partner-related sexual abuse, they should continue to reflect on the influence of patriarchal values on the choices that women make during the intervention process. We recommend interventions that encourage greater awareness of gender equality in wider Indian society and more specifically in communities and families. Outreach activities such as open houses and home visits are specific interventions that contribute to gender equality awareness as they are set up to talk about violence against women and the possible interventions of the WHL. Those outreach activities contribute to a holistic perspective in tackling intimate partner violence. We argue that the CA offers some interesting perspectives for various vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, homeless people, and children with disabilities. The use of the CA in a social work context is significant because it unravels hidden inequalities, which is essential in order to establish successful interventions against marginalization. In conclusion, we therefore recommend more capability research in various social work contexts. The results of the study are relevant to the current focus on the CA in social work, stressing the added value of the approach when evaluating social work interventions, and furthering the debate on how the CA can be used in practice. Social work is not static. It is a constantly changing discipline and it is therefore important that a critical, universal, and comprehensive framework is available to evaluate social work interventions in various contexts and situations. Additionally, we argue that the WHL’s counseling services are similar to Family Group Conferencing used in the Netherlands and Belgium and that the Family Group Conferencing is a good methodology for culturally competent social workers. In a multicultural Europe, it is important that we have culturally competent social workers. Finally, we argue that the CA’s normative perspective and inner strength – striving for social equality, respect for diversity, and the promotion of well-being for everybody – is universal to social work around the world.


Capability Approachsocial worksocial interventionsintimate partner violencesexual abusegender inequalityagencyfreedoms of choiceadaptive preferences
  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 26 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 47-69
  • DOI: 10.18352/jsi.513
  • Published on 17 Mar 2017
  • Peer Reviewed