Celebrating the power of cultural diversity

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Celebrating the power of cultural diversity

Tuesday, 21 May 2024 | Rajdeep Pathak

Celebrating the power of cultural diversity

As Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu once articulated, our differences underscore our mutual interdependence, highlighting the profound value of cultural diversity

The “World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development”, celebrated annually on May 21st, stands as a beacon of hope in a world often marred by conflicts stemming from cultural, religious and socio-economic differences. In such a situation of growing discord, dialogue emerges as a powerful tool for fostering understanding, cooperation and ultimately, development. Dialogue serves as the cornerstone of development in a world, characterized by its diversity. The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa and Theologian Desmond Tutu had eloquently Stated, “We are different so that we can know our need for one another,” thus necessitating the essence of cultural diversity - an opportunity to learn, grow and empathize with others.

UNESCO established the “World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development” in response to the 2001 terrorist attack that destroyed the Bamyan Buddha statue in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated May 21st as this day. The 2002 Universal Declaration recognized the need to “Enhance the potential of culture as a means of achieving prosperity, sustainable development and global peaceful coexistence”.

Moreover, with 89% of all current conflicts in the world occurring in countries with low intercultural dialogue, to forge effective cooperation and sustain peace, strengthening intercultural dialogue becomes a necessity. Further, according to UNESCO data (https://www.un.org/en/observances/cultural-diversity-day), the cultural and creative sector is one of the most powerful engines of development worldwide. It accounts for more than 48 million jobs globally - almost half of which are held by women - representing 6.2% of all existing employment and 3.1% of global GDP. It is also the sector that employs and provides opportunities for the largest number of young people under the age of 30.

However, the cultural and creative sector still does not have the place it deserves in public policies and international cooperation. Thus, in a bid to change this, in September 2022, delegations from 150 States gathered in Mexico for MONDIACULT 2022 - the largest world conference devoted to culture (in the last 40 years) - where they unanimously adopted the historic ‘Declaration for Culture’ affirming ‘culture’ as a “global public good” and calling for it to be integrated “as a specific goal in its own right” in the Development Agenda beyond 2030.

 But what exactly are the concepts of diversity and inclusion along with culture? Diversity encompasses the intentional and inclusive gathering of individuals from various backgrounds, encompassing differences in race, ethnicity, language, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, age, educational background and this list can go on. It emphasizes the importance of bringing these diverse identities together to interact positively and contribute to a shared environment. Inclusion goes beyond merely acknowledging and respecting each person’s distinct experiences and identities. It requires fair treatment and widespread recognition. It means embracing and appreciating these differences as essential elements for the progress and well-being of all.

Thus the ‘World Cultural Diversity Day’, commemorating the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, also emphasizes four key objectives. First, it advocates for policies fostering the creation, production and dissemination of diverse cultural goods and services. Secondly, it encourages initiatives facilitating a balanced exchange of cultural products while enhancing the mobility of artists and cultural professionals. Thirdly, it promotes sustainable development policies and international aid programs that embrace cultural integration. Lastly, it underscores the importance of aligning international and national legislation with human rights and fundamental freedoms, ensuring the preservation and flourishing of cultural diversity worldwide. All this is because, ‘Cultural Diversity’, drives development, not only economically, but also personally.

Simultaneously, ‘Dialogue’ also transcends geographical and cultural boundaries, catalysing cross-cultural understanding and cooperation. As Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, poignantly expressed, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” a profound insight underscoring the potential for growth and enlightenment that arises from engaging in dialogue, even amidst adversity.

In today’s complex landscape, dialogue emerges as an urgent necessity, given the multitude of global challenges like climate change, economic disparity and geopolitical tensions. Martin Luther King Jr.’s timeless words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” emphasize the interconnectedness of human experiences and the pivotal role of dialogue in addressing systemic inequalities in this landscape.

Engaging in dialogue, not only enhances self-awareness but also fosters profound connections with others. For instance, movements like ‘Black Lives Matter,’ sparked by tragic incidents like George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, underscore the imperative of dialogue in combating systemic racism and police brutality. Meaningful conversations among communities, law enforcement agencies and policymakers are essential for driving substantial reforms and promoting racial equity.

Throughout history, numerous instances underscore the transformative potency of dialogue in conflict resolution. One such example is the Gandhian model of ‘nonviolent communication’. Mahatma Gandhi advocated for ‘Satyagraha’ or truth force, advocating peaceful resistance against oppression. His commitment to dialogue and nonviolence inspired millions, to follow the path of nonviolence against the might of British colonial rule. Through nonviolent protests, civil disobedience and constructive dialogue, Gandhi showcased the power of dialogue in effecting profound social and political change. His method challenged colonial oppression’s legitimacy, spurring a global movement for civil rights and social justice, across the country and inspiring others worldwide. Gandhi’s legacy underscores dialogue’s enduring potential in resolving conflicts and advancing justice worldwide.

CEO of the East African Centre for Human Rights, Judith Oloo, writing for “The Standard” in her article “The World Day of Cultural Diversity: Children’s role as carriers of culture” (standard media.co.ke), lays importance on the role of children as torchbearers of cultural diversity. She says that children, “As participants in and carriers of our culture… are a critical part of our population - the future of our societies”. According to her, culture profoundly shapes children’s development, influencing emotional, social, physical and linguistic growth from birth. Customs, beliefs and practices surrounding food, art, language and religion play significant roles. Recognizing this, professionals working with children, such as social workers and child rights advocates, must grasp these influences to bring about a change.

In today’s world, addressing global challenges requires collaborative approaches rooted in dialogue and mutual understanding. According to the UN, “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.”

Each of us has a role in fostering understanding to cultivate thriving communities. It’s crucial to recognize how culture, in its various diversified forms, enriches discourse and contributes to sustainable development across different realms - social, environmental, economic and so on. Is it then not the time for us to at least sit across the table and start communicating?

(The writer is Programme Executive, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti; views are personal)

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