The shift of focus, between what you have and what you are, is central to Sen's idea of justice. If you don't have the ability to find work in a less dangerous place, you might be forced to leave and get killed in a time of ethnic strife. If you aren't able to feed your family, they die in a famine. The conditions for justice would be the ones that allow people to have the capabilities to live a good life.
The 'good life', and how to live it, is a major theme of any ethics course, and focusing particularly on conflict narrows the question to how events like war or violence limit our options to fulfill ourselves and live our vision of the good.
Traditional perspectives in conflict studies look at how situations of war or direct violence can impact these choices, but our program has expanded this to include the effects of structural violence as well (check out the lecture on structural violence here
). Social justice can be described as working towards a just society through the elimination of structural violence, and so is equally concerned with questions of racism and discrimination as it is by access to water or conscription.
Sen's focus on capabilities, arguably, gives a more comprehensive response to issues of both direct and structural violence or oppression. Nalini describes how women had less opportunities to work in higher education fifty years ago, and her capability to function in this role would have been limited by a number of factors. One student from Egypt agrees, saying that sometimes, while women are legally allowed on the street, social and cultural factors (like harassment) prevent them from doing so in peace or safety. The resource (legal freedom) is there, but there are still other structural issues that prevent certain women from using freedom of movement (the capability to move). The difference seems subtle in some cases, but it's important.
In this understanding of social justice, we need to better understand the nature of disadvantage (and how people are disadvantaged) in order to understand how this can be remedied.
Some of the limits to our capabilities are noticeable at all times (people with limited mobility using cities designed for able-bodied people), while others only become visible in times of crisis (COVID-19 lockdowns preventing people with HIV from getting their medication promptly).