May 21: the World Day for Cultural Diversity

Three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development. Cultural diversity is a driving force of development, not only with respect to economic growth, but also as a means of leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life. This is captured in the seven culture conventions, which provide a solid basis for the promotion of cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is thus an asset that is indispensable for poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development.

At the same time, acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity – in particular through innovative use of media and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) – are conducive to dialogue among civilizations and cultures, respect and mutual understanding.

In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. The day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to advance the four goals of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on 20 October 2005:

 

  1. Support sustainable systems of governance for culture
  2. Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase mobility of artists and cultural professionals
  3. Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks
  4. Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms

Intercultural Dialogue

Equitable exchange and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based on mutual understanding and respect and the equal dignity of all cultures is the essential prerequisite for constructing social cohesion, reconciliation among peoples and peace among nations.

This action is part of the global framework of an Alliance of Civilizations launched by the United Nations. More specifically, within the larger framework of intercultural dialogue, which also encompasses interreligious dialogue, special focus is placed on a series of good practices to encourage cultural pluralism at the local, regional and national level as well as regional and sub-regional initiatives aimed at discouraging all expressions of extremism and fanaticism and highlighting values and principles that bring people together.

Interreligious Dialogue

UNESCO’s Interreligious Dialogue programme, an essential component of Intercultural Dialogue, aims to promote dialogue among different religions, spiritual and humanistic traditions in a world where conflicts are increasingly associated with religious belonging.

It stresses the reciprocal interactions and influences between, on the one hand, religions, spiritual and humanistic traditions, and on the other, the need to promote understanding between them in order to challenge ignorance and prejudices and foster mutual respect.

Learning the art of dialogue is both a personal and social process. Developing one’s skills and capacity for dialogue implies a willingness to be open while retaining one’s critical judgment. Dialogue concerns us all: from decision-makers and leaders to individuals within each community. Alongside relevant international conferences to raise awareness, UNESCO strives to promote grass-root activities, particularly in sensitive geo-strategical areas that reach target-populations such as women, youth and marginalized populations.

Culture and Development

Placing culture at the heart of development policy constitutes an essential investment in the world’s future and a pre-condition to successful globalization processes that take into account the principles of cultural diversity.

Development is inseparable from culture. In this regard, the major challenge is to convince political decision-makers and local, national and international social actors to integrating the principles of cultural diversity and the values of cultural pluralism into all public policies, mechanisms and practices, particularly through public/private partnerships.

The aim is, on the one hand, to incorporate culture into all development policies, be they related to education, science, communication, health, environment or cultural tourism and, on the other hand, to support the development of the cultural sector through creative industries. By contributing in this way to poverty alleviation, culture offers important benefits in terms of social cohesion.

The world is more and more interconnected but it does not mean that individuals and societies really live together – as reveal the exclusions suffered by millions of poor, women, youth, migrants and disenfranchised minorities. Today there is more information, technology and knowledge available than ever before, but adequate wisdom is still needed to prevent conflicts, to eradicate poverty or to make it possible for all to learn in order to live in harmony in a safe world.

In this new, turbulent international globalised landscape, a central message must be heralded: peace is more than the absence of war, it is living together with our differences – of sex, race, language, religion or culture – while furthering universal respect for justice and human rights on which such coexistence depends. Therefore, peace should never be taken for granted. It is an on-going process, a long-term goal which requires constant engineering, vigilance and active participation by all individuals. It is a choice to be made on each situation, an everyday life decision to engage in sincere dialogue with other individual and communities, whether they live a block or a click away.

It has become more crucial than ever to promote and disseminate values, attitudes and behaviours conducive to dialogue, non-violence and the rapprochement of cultures in line with the principles of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which states that:

In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together. Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace. Thus defined, cultural pluralism gives policy expression to the reality of cultural diversity. Indissociable from a democratic framework, cultural pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life”.

Today, peace requires ever more active investments, enlightened leadership, powerful educational values, extensive research in social innovation and a progressive media world. Every one and each of these constitutes a requirement relevant mission to the development of education and sciences, the enrichment of cultural creativity, heritage and cultural futures, including a vibrant and peace-oriented global media structure, can in fact be seen as a contribution to world peace.