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Cultural diversity for dialogue and development

Audrey Azoulay

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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On May 21, 2018 UNESCO celebrated the 18th World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

Cultural diversity gives our life its richness, its colour, and its dynamism. It is a cognitive and intellectual opening and a driving force for social development and economic growth.

Of course, cultural diversity is not in itself a factor of peace and progress. For this it requires learning; learning about otherness, the ability to shift focus away from oneself to dialogue, and to recognise the value concealed in each culture.

This year's World Day was specifically designed to raise awareness of these issues. It invited us to go beyond the acknowledgement of diversity and to recognise the benefits of cultural pluralism, regarded as an ethical and political principle of equal respect for cultural identities and traditions.

This principle is at the heart of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the organisation in 2001, which recognises cultural diversity as part of the common heritage of humanity, and as a driving force for peace and prosperity. The issues raised by this declaration, written in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, remain highly relevant.

First of all, there is the need to protect the different forms of cultural expression — languages, arts, crafts, lifestyles — especially those of minority peoples, so that they are not swept away by the movement of standardisation that accompanies globalisation. These are essential elements for defining individual and collective identities and, as such, their protection falls under the respect for human dignity.

Second is the issue of access to the cultural life of one's community or country. This is also a right enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, DG/ME/ID/2018/17 - Page 2, whose 70th anniversary we mark this year: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

While the technological revolution has made many cultural and artistic forms more easily accessible, and trade throughout the world has increased exponentially, there are still many obstacles to equal access to goods and services. This particularly affects women, socially disadvantaged people, and minority communities within their country. That is why UNESCO, on this World Day, organised in Paris a panel of discussions around this central question: How can we make culture accessible to all?

Finally, to be able freely to build one's identity, drawing on various cultural sources, and to be able to develop one's heritage in a creative way are the foundations of a peaceful and sustainable development of our societies. This is an essential issue. And the challenge for the future is integrating culture into a global vision of development. This is the challenge launched, for example, by the Creative Cities Network, supported by UNESCO, comprising 180 cities in 72 countries. The network aims to foster a sustainable urban development model, focusing on creative arts, and based on active cooperation among cities worldwide.

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.” With this imagery, Mahatma Gandhi was suggesting that culture is not a heritage set in stone, but one that is living and breathing, open to influences and dialogue, allowing us to adapt more peacefully to the changes in the world.

UNESCO invites everyone to open their doors and windows to the invigorating wind of diversity!

Audrey Azoulay is director-general of UNESCO.


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