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On May 12, 2002, Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to empowering women living in the global South, organized a conversation to map out an approach to a definition of the concept of human security. The participants— Mahnaz Afkhami (Iran/U.S.), Kumi Naidoo (South Africa), Jacqueline Pitanguy (Brazil), and Aruna Rao (India), co-chair and commissioners of the Commission on Globalization*—discussed the concept of human security in order to identify the parameters as well as the limits of the traditional definition of human security, and to broaden it to encompass a wider spectrum of both human material and spiritual needs. The participants agreed to base their discussion on a value system that puts people’s welfare at the center; emphasizes power sharing at all levels; and promotes an economic framework that encourages sustainable development, social justice, human rights, gender equality, and democracy. The conversation is a prelude to organizing a policy action group on human security with the support of the WLP and the Commission on Globalization. Mahnaz Afkhami: It might be appropriate to begin with some reflections on the concept of human security and how our own work is related to our definition. In my view, the traditional definition of “human security” is unsatisfactory since it has been tied too closely to conflict on an international or national scale, and SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall 2002) Human Security: A Conversation *Organizational affiliations appear on the inside back cover. This dialogue among steering committee members of the Commission on Globalization’s Human Security Policy Action Group ( took place on May 15, 2002, at the Women’s Learning Partnership ( limited in focus to anti-military, anti-nuclear, anti-landmine struggles and movements. To come to the essential idea of what makes the individual human being feel secure, we ought to look to a more comprehensive, more inclusive, more interconnected series of ideas—“human rights writ large.” Jacqueline Pitanguy: I agree that we need to adopt a more comprehensive perspective of human security and I believe that this concept should be framed under the human rights paradigm, which provides the ground, the base, from which human security stems. If we adopt this more comprehensive approach, human security goes beyond the right to live free from violence and coercion and encompass other dimensions of life, such as the right to exercise civil , political, and reproductive rights; to have access to food, sanitation , education, and health; to be free from discrimination based on sex, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or religion ; to live in a safe environment, including a safe domestic environment . In the twentieth century there has been an important enlargement of the conceptualization of human rights and its indivisibility , which affects the idea of human security. In more formal language, security is closely related to the frontiers of order and disorder, crime and punishment, danger and safety. These frontiers are being expanded and redefined through social activism and political action, bringing us to a new concept of security. Kumi Naidoo: I agree with the two comments that were just made. However, I think that the real challenge to thinking through the usefulness of the concept of human security in practice is keeping it from becoming what our American colleagues would call “motherhood and apple pie”: all things to all people. There is a danger of the concept becoming so inclusive that we don’t know where it starts, much less where it ends. When we think about the strategic arena of intervention to advance human security, different choices have to be made about interventions called for by government , business, and civil society. 658 SOCIAL RESEARCH If we look, for example, at the position of the members of the global commission on human security, they come from humanitarian backgrounds and they have a great deal of influence, which they focus on what might be called emergency or unexpected events: earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters, as well as potentially the current religious conflict in the state of Gujarat in India, for example. But I am contradicting myself a little bit here, in the...


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pp. 657-673
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