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Yuko Kamishima (Ritsumeikan University, Japan)

Yuko Kamishima is a Professor of Philosophy at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. She received an undergraduate degree in Law and graduate degrees in Advanced Social and International Studies from University of Tokyo. Her doctoral thesis was a critical study of John Rawls’s theory of justice from the viewpoint of the capability approach and cosmopolitanism, which was published as Post-Rawlsian Theories of Justice: Pogge, Sen, and Nussbaum, Mineruba-Shobo, 2015 (in Japanese). She also published Martha Nussbaum: Philosophy for Human Development, Chuo-Koron-Shinsha, 2013 (in Japanese) and Justice: 6 Standpoints in the Contemporary Political Philosophy, Chuo-Koron-Shinsha, 2018 (in Japanese). Her published work in English includes "Needs, Capabilities, and Global Justice: On Miller's National Responsibility and Global Justice" in Tetsu Sakurai & Makoto Usami (eds.), Human Rights and Global Justice: The 10th Kobe Lectures, July 2011, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014; “Can Merging a Capability Approach with Effectual Processes Help Us Define a Permissible Action Range for AI Robotics Entrepreneurship?” (co-authored with Bart Gremmen and Hikari Akizawa), Philosophy of Management 17 (2018): 97–113; “Political Justice and the Capability for Responsibility,” Critical Horizons 20, no. 2 (2019): 145-160. She has also translated the following texts into Japanese: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition, Harvard University Press, 1999 (with Takashi Kawamoto and Satoshi Fukuma); John Rawls, Political Liberalism, expanded edition, Columbia University Press, 2005 (with Satoshi Fukuma); Onora O’Neill, Bounds of Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2000); Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Harvard University Press, 2006); Lawrence Hamilton, Amartya Sen (Polity Press, 2019). She is currently working on epistemic injustice, feminist interpretation of property-owning democracy, and animal ethics.

Gender Equality and Rawls’s Political Liberalism: Our Common Aspirations
Yuko Kamishima
In many societies, women have historically experienced subordination to men based on their group membership. They have been sexually objectified and removed from the public sphere. The situation has been changing slowly but steadily thanks to the women’s rights movements and the more recent tackling of structural gender injustices.

In political philosophy, it was John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) that provided an ideal theory of a free and equal society for all, including women. However, his work has also invited many constructive criticisms from those philosophers who are deeply concerned with gender equality, Susan Okin (1989) being first on the list. Although Rawls himself was somewhat conservative regarding the institution of family and the traditional role women played therein, the theoretical framework and conceptual resources he submitted have enabled us to envision a society that does not infringe upon the rights and freedom of its citizens.

Philosophers involved in international development have shared this vision. In his seminal work on equality, Amartya Sen (1980) presented the idea of basic capabilities and claimed that it should replace the idea of basic goods in a Rawlsian liberalism. Martha Nussbaum (2006), conversely, conceived the idea of central human capabilities and argued for a convergence between social contract theory and the capabilities approach. Sen, Nussbaum, and other capability theorists suggest that, in this diverse world, we should focus more on individual persons’ capabilities than on their actual achievements when evaluating their well-being and making suggestions for development. Thus, a free and equal society for all is understood as a society in which the basic capabilities to pursue one’s own good are equally guaranteed to everyone, including women. There, one enjoys the “navigational agency” (Claassen, 2018) to navigate one’s own life.

However, people belonging to underrepresented groups in a society can be deprived, often unintentionally, of their capabilities by the agency of the majority under systemic oppression (Drydyk, 2021). In a sexist society, it is women’s capabilities that are oppressed. Although, as Saba Mahmood (2001) suggests, there are many “docile agents” exercising their agency in ways available to them, even in comprehensive religious contexts, others are suffering or dying because of the rooted inequalities in social, political, legal, and economic structures. Stories both in real life and literary fiction have told us how women in such a society can be deprived of the capabilities they need to thrive.

How can we advance gender equality in a sexist society? Given that Rawls provided an ideal theory of a free and equal society for all and that many societies are also diversifying in terms of religious, moral, and metaphysical views, I believe Rawls’s work, in particular Political Liberalism (2005), has tremendous relevance to the question. The project of political liberalism is to reconcile different reasonable views to enable stable social cooperation. The aim of this lecture, therefore, is to explore the possibility of Rawls’s work to advance gender equality in societies where it is needed.

Thus, I first introduce the political conception of justice laid out by Rawls himself, and then examine how his political liberalism can be interpreted as a feminist political liberalism by scholars such as Lori Watson and Christie Hartley (2018). I also draw examples from Japan to see how a public political culture, and hence a political conception of justice, might be male-dominant in a nonideal theory.

Second, I claim that a feminist political liberalism, in its application, should pay more attention to women’s capabilities to participate in public reasoning. Under systemic sexist oppression, many women are deprived of such capability. As Miranda Fricker (2015) suggests, the capability to contribute to the making of epistemic justice is indispensable for everyone. If reasonable citizens recognize this, they may be able to promote fairness for women in the making of a political conception of justice.

Third, I propose to take Rawls’s idea of the right to personal property more seriously. This right, covered by the first principle of his two principles of justice, provides a sufficient material basis for personal independence and self-respect, which are essential to the development and exercise of the two moral faculties: the capacity to form a conception of the good life and the capacity for a sense of justice (Rawls, 1971, 2005). We can find a more developed idea of the right to personal property in Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Rawls, 2001), in which Rawls submitted this right might include the right to dwelling and private grounds. As Katy Wells (2016) suggests, I interpret this right as a possessory right to decent housing; Rawls allows for both liberal socialism and property-owning democracy. With this right guaranteed, women need not marry only to secure a place to stay. This independence will change the mindset of women, girls especially, in societies where, as in Japan, wives call their husbands “my master” and many people refer to someone’s husband as “your master” or “her master” even after the patriarchal family system was legally abolished in 1947 and equal civil rights were granted for all under the new constitution.

Although there may be questions regarding the degree of convergence between Rawls’s conceptions of political liberalism and a property-owning democracy, his work still offers many theoretical and conceptual resources to advance justice for all, including for women, in societies within reach of his work.