20 Pages

Gendered insecurities, health and development in Africa: An introduction


Since its introduction by the UNDP, the concept of human security has become increasingly popularized in academic and policy circles. The original formulation in the 1993 Human Development Report focused on the need to transcend a cold-war territorial preoccupation in a post-1989 world. In this new reality a people-centered approach could tap the resources from disarmament and the contraction of defense spending to enhance food, employment and environmental security at the heart of an unfinished social agenda (UNDP, 1993). The 1994 Report provided a fuller definition of the meaning and content of human security. Chronic dimensions of human security focused on the safety from long term threats like hunger, disease and repression. More immediate threats could also arise from sudden shifts in the normal patterns of daily existence in the home, in a place of employment or in a community. Threats can arise from human, natural or both sources (UNDP, 1994). In reality causes of chronic vs. more immediate threats to human security can be common. Hunger can be protracted or occur suddenly if a flood destroys a crop of a subsistence farmer at harvest time or if a war drives them away from their land or storage facilities. Diseases like malaria or cholera can kill in a matter of hours. The key is to generate a human-centered construct that can incorporate various dimensions of the downside risks affecting the generalized well-being or dignity of people whatever the time dimension. The concept incorporates an array of different components focused on the safety from the threat of disease, hunger, conflict, repression, violence, environmental degradation, discrimination, loss of human rights, shifts in weather and climate, crime, and loss of employment and other forms of livelihood.1 Alkire, in one of the more trenchant essays on human security, defines the objective of human security as safeguarding “the vital core of all human lives from pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfillment”2 (2003: p. 2). Safeguarding human lives involves institutionalizing early warning systems along with the capacities to protect in a way that is systematic not episodic and protective and preventative not reactive. The scope of human security is limited to a set of basic functions linked to the survival (freedom from premature preventable deaths), livelihood and dignity of people. The definition also invokes the human as a central category to the provision

of security, which does not exclude any group based on any distinguishing attributes like race, ethnicity or citizenship. Focus is on threats that are deemed to be pervasive in the sense that they are critical and of sufficient scale in their threat to core activities and are sufficiently repetitive and not anomalous or idiosyncratic. Any interventions to enhance human security then must be consistent with the enhancement of human dignity and fulfillment. Subjecting people to confinement while feeding them (e.g., refugees) might help their physical survival, but curtail their basic rights and freedom. The objective of such universal claims, however, should not be narrowly defined by strictly technical terms but should be a product of practical reasoning that arises from reflection of the experience, knowledge, needs and values of involved subjects. It is evident both in the broader discussions of human security and the specificities of Alkire’s definition of human security objectives that there is considerable overlap with Sen’s capabilities approach, UNDP’s human development and a host of human rights and humanitarian based approaches to development. What are the relationships between these different concepts? In what way does human security add value to the African development agenda? Why does this volume choose to privilege gender and health? What are the weaknesses and strengths of human security both relative to the literature and the issues addressed in the chapters in this volume? What are some of the concrete policy recommendations that come out of the contributions in this book? The contributors of this volume use multiple and interdisciplinary lenses to delve into these issues as they attempt to address such questions.