Enhancing the Capabilities of the Most Vulnerable: Pilot Project on Inequalities in Human Development in Bamako and Accra

How can a capability based approach help explain the widening gap in development and what insights can be derived to combat poverty efficiently?

Project Summary

Combating poverty is central to all discourse on development efforts, yet the gap between the better-off and those left behind is widening. The project team argues with others that the causes of this failure are to be found in the incapacity of taking into account the multidimensionality of poverty and the reasons for its unequal distribution among individuals. The Capability Approach (CA) provides a framework for going beyond a mere economic definition of poverty and a focus on lack of resources, to explore the unequal ability of people to access existing resources and use them for «living the life they have reason to value».

In the framework of the Human Development and Capability Association, poor quality of life is not seen as a simple result of the lack of local resources but stems from multiple factors that give individuals more or less access to these resources with more or less ability to exploit them. It highlights the situation of individuals at a given point, their potential for achievement, i.e. their freedom to achieve (agency freedom), as well as the achievement of their goal (agency achievement).

Academic Output

Executive Summary

The objective of the project is threefold. The aim is to carry out a detailed analysis of the factors associated with socio-demographic behaviours and to identify the most vulnerable groups, but also to develop a methodology to better valorize existing data. To what extent is it possible to apply the CA to data that has not been collected for this purpose? What types of modifications can we recommend changes for future waves of major surveys? Finally, the examination of sources of vulnerability aims to re-examine strategies for action and set priorities. By the complex syncretism between very rich socio-cultural references and processes of modernization and accelerated globalization, as well as multifaceted crises, populations are especially vulnerable and therefore constitute a particularly relevant terrain for applying the CA. We take here the example of two West African countries, Mali and Ghana in which the project initiators have extensive research experience and which, although located in the same geographical area, have experienced demographic and socio-economic dynamics separate.

Working Paper

Targeting Inequalities: A contribution of the Capability Approach to population studies.

This paper introduces the objectives of the project presented in this Special Issue, i.e. to apply the Capability Approach (CA) to population studies to better understand growing disparities in human development and identify the best indicators to trace inequalities in opportunity. We present here the added value of the CA to population studies, than the characteristics of the two West African countries considered – Ghana and Mali – and, finally, the topics broached. Applying the CA implies a major shift from the classical analysis of the determinants of outcomes to a focus on the array of opportunities and disparities. The eight papers cover three major domains in social demography, especially in West Africa, and for which rich data sets are available: health, seen through risk factors and the spread of obesity; social integration expressed by professional activity and social participation; and family planning viewed in terms of contraception and birth spacing.

Working Paper

Targeting Inequalities: A contribution of the Capability Approach to population studies (French).

See above.


Application of Sen’ Capabilities Approach to Demographic Analysis in Africa

The aim of this research project has been to consider how the Capability Approach (CA) can be applied in social demography to analyze in greater depth the sources of the differentials in demographic behavior by using a broader and newer conceptual and analytical framework. By focusing on people’s “freedom to achieve”, the CA considers the multiple dimensions of poverty, the causes of inequalities in well-being, people’s real deprivation, differences in needs; concentrating on equity rather than end points such as equality, degrees of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Working Paper

Explaining Differences in Self-Assessed Health within the Capability Framework: the Case of Women’s Health in Accra, Ghana

Using the Capability Approach to assess the differentials in self-assessed health, we provide a framework that allows us to review the different trajectories that people take, given similar background social contexts (endowments) and the individual opportunities and choices (conversion factors) taken to arrive at different health states (functionings).

The data that we use for this exploration is from a household survey, conducted in 2008/9 among 2814 households in Accra, Ghana called the Women’s Health Study of Accra, Wave II (WHSA-II) (Douptcheva and Hill 2011). The survey intended to expand our understanding of the impact of health on poverty and development and to provide new empirical information on the epidemiology and demography of health and mortality in women and children in a major African city. The WHSA-II household questionnaire consists of 25 sections in addition to a household roster and details of the dwelling’s characteristics. The sections were chosen to address major health issues as well as new topics of interest to policy makers and government programs. In this analysis, we primarily focus on health and well-being as defined by the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) short form (SF-36) – a series of 36 questions that measure functional health and well-being from as perceived and reported by the person interviewed.

Research Team

Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdil
University of Geneva

Allan Hill
Harvard University

Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti
Principal Member
Università degli studi di Pavia


Samba Diop
Associated Member
University of Bamako

Mamadou Souncalo Traore
Associated Member
University of Bamako

Werner Haug
Associated Member
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Fatoumata Sidibe
Associated Member
Direction Nationale de la Population Bamako





Policy domains


Host Institution