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MAINSTREAMING THE CULTURE “LENS” IN UNFPA WORK. Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch.

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Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch

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“ When the sea is rough, those aboard a ship suddenly realize that there are no blacks and whites, no rich and poor, no women and men, no elders and youth. They suddenly realize that they are all passengers sharing the same destiny.”

Leonardo da Vinci

With his visionary insight, da Vinci saw how connected the fates are of people traveling in the global ship, or what was later coined as the global village.

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Among the winds leading to rougher seas are the winds of realize that there are no blacks and whites, no rich and poor, no women and men, no elders and youth. They suddenly realize that they are all passengers sharing the same destiny.”globalization that made the last three decades among the cruelest in human history for large segments of the populations of the South.

The gains of globalization have not been equitably distributed among nations and this could be leading to “rougher tides” if not seriously and effectively addressed.

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The ensuing polarization of wealth, science and technology resulted in a quickly growing gap between the nations that have and the nations that have not, be it in terms of material well-being, access to social services and most importantly in terms of the capacity of societies to hand over to their young generations a future worth looking forward to.

This polarization has shown its impact in the growing unrest that is being witnessed all over the globe and the uncertainty of the fate of the young generations.

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But of all those impacted negatively by globalization, the world’s poor have been hit most.

A major part of the assets of the poor are socio-cultural and are composed of traditions, reciprocity, relationships, traditional knowledge and skills, but especially those traditional and informal support systems that deliver products or services in normal times and in times of crisis.

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With globalization, not only did the poor lose their work and income through the redesigning of markets and rising unemployment, but their socio cultural assets and support systems are eroding. This is creating at both the community and the individual levels a sense of loss, trauma and disconnectedness.

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On the other hand, development paradigms have NOT contributed to sustainable development. These paradigms were often designed by economists who considered material, natural and human capital the only assets for development.

Very limited attempts were made to explore the social, cultural and institutional capital of countries and communities.

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In the eighties and nineties, this conventional wisdom was subject to scrutiny and evaluation. New interest was evolving in the socio-cultural and institutional dimensions of development, which resulted in producing a number of new development approaches, such as the community participation, sustainable livelihoods, and people-centered approaches.

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The Millennium Development Goals are one of the expressions of this new thinking.

In a nutshell, these goals are designed to address the pressing need to close a considerable part of the global distribution gap through:

  •  Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger

  • Improving the situation of the social sectors

    in developing countries

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The MDGs: of this new thinking.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

Goal 7: Ensure Environmental sustainability.

Goal 8: Develop a Global partnership for development.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality.

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A of this new thinking.chieving these goals is a monumental challenge.

Let’s consider how monumental this challenge is:

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A S of this new thinking.ocio Economic Global Fact Sheet

A Global Comparison between Rich & Poor Countries

(Data from UNDP HDR 2002)

  • In 1999, 2.8 billion people lived on less than 2 dollars a day, with 1.2 billion barely surviving at the margins of subsistence on less than $1 a day.

  • During the 1990’s, the number of extremely poor people dropped only slightly. Due to population growth, the share of the world’s people living in extreme poverty fell from 29 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1999 only.

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A S of this new thinking.ocio Economic Global Fact Sheet

  • The world richest 1 percent of people receive as much income as the poorest 57 percent.

  • The richest 10 % of the US population has an income equal to that of the poorest 43 % of the world’s population. Put differently; the income of the richest 25 million Americans is equal to that of almost 2 billon people in poor countries.

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A S of this new thinking.ocio Economic Global Fact Sheet

  • While the proportion of hungry people has been declining, the world’s booming population means that the number of malnourished people is not falling fast enough.

  • During the nineties, the World Population declined by just 6 million people a year. At this rate it would take more than 130 years to rid the world of hunger.

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A S of this new thinking.ocio Economic Global Fact Sheet

A Global Profile of the Social Sectors in Developing Countries

  • Of the world’s estimated 854 million illiterate adults, 455 million are women.

  • Every year more than 500 million women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.

  • Around the world there are 100 million “missing” women who would have been alive but for infanticide, neglect and sex selective abortions.

  • Every day more than 30 thousand children around the world die of preventable diseases.

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A S of this new thinking.ocio Economic Global Fact Sheet

A Global Profile of the Social Sectors in Developing Countries

  • 113 million school age children are not in school, 97 percent of them live in developing countries.

  • 60 percent of children NOT in primary schools are girls.

  • By the end of the year 2000, almost 22 million people had died of AIDS, 13 million children had lost their mother or both parents to the disease and more than 40 million people were living with HIV. Of those, 90 percent live in developing countries, and 75 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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To address this challenge development agencies and practitioners need to think innovatively and out of those boxes provided by neo-classical development paradigms.

They need to reach out to find holistic and integrated development approaches that:

  • Have more to do with people’s well-being than with increasing their material assets.

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  • Search for locally grown solutions, jointly with local communities, to ensure ownership and sustainability of development results.

  • Identify, understand and collaborate with informal local structures, support systems and networks in all their various expressions.

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T spiritual assets, resources and incentives that hrough increasingly effective and focused implementation of ICPD Programme of Action, UNFPA is in a position to make enormous contributions to achieving the MDGs.

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But for UNFPA to address the MDGs, it is no longer possible to resort to business-as-usual strategies.

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If implemented effectively, this approach would lead to: to resort to business-as-usual strategies.

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2. This approach will ensure that the accumulated socio-cultural capital made of people’s cultural resources, networks andsupport systems are not overlooked or wasted in the development process. Rather they are treated as ASSETS that can be utilizedto contribute to the sustainable livelihood and well- being of individuals and communities.

Let us look at a few examples from the field that demonstrate what we mean here:

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Example 1: socio-cultural capital made of people’s cultural resources, networks and

Listening to people and communities

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Example 2: socio-cultural capital made of people’s cultural resources, networks and

Identifying and


local support


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To their embarrassment, the women made the following responses:

Should we let our womenfolk suffer or die because they have no money?

Who would look after the mother and newly born after birth when half of the families we are working with are IDPs and have no relatives in the region?

If our people cannot pay us, God will. He made it our duty to help our people and he is sure to pay us.

From a survey conducted by WHO and the UN Gender Advisor- Afghanistan, 2001

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Example 3: responses:

Social values

as part of

people’s most

important assets

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3. responses: This approach will also ensure that the evolutionary potential of norms, values and beliefs, and informal power structures is explored, to create conditions for an environment conducive to development interventions.

Cultural norms and systems are what people know and relate to, and these should be explored to find within them what could be used or developedas both entry points and advocacy areas for the promotion of international standards on human rights and gender equity and equality.

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A World Bank project responses:in Guatemala provided for health clinics to be staffed by government health workers. The local people shunned the health clinics and refused to visit them and continued to visit their traditional healers.

Example 4:

An example of

the potential in

local structures

as a support factor

for our interventions

This led to negotiations by project staff with traditional healers and eventually to invite them to work side by side with the government health staff. The clinics finally settled into their work of attending to the health needs of poverty stricken areas

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What is culture? responses:

Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a society or a group. It includes creative expressions, community practices, and material or built forms.

The UN World Commission on Culture and Development in its Report

“ Our Creative Diversity”

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But culture is dynamic and this is why, for our purposes, the following definition might be more appropriate:

“ Culture is a matrix of infinite possibilities and choices. From within the same culture matrix we can extract arguments and strategies for the degradation and ennoblement of our species, for its enslavement or liberation, for the suppression of its productive potential or its enchantment.”

Wole Soyinka

Nigerian Nobel Laureate

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Culture and Development: The UN work the following definition might be more appropriate:

Ø The General Assembly Resolution 2200 adopted in 1966 the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which states the following:

“[…] the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights […]”

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Ø the following definition might be more appropriate: In 1992, the UN established the World Commission on Culture and Development. The Commission finalized its report with the title “Our Creative Diversity” in 1995. One of the main findings of this report was:

“ The relationship between Culture and Development should be clarified and deepened, in practical and constructive ways.”

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Ø the following definition might be more appropriate:The UNESCO Conference on Culture and Development Policies in 1998,

and its World Culture Report, discussed the role of cultural pluralism in development.

Ø In 1998 The General Assembly adopted Resolution 53/22 that proclaimed the year 2001 “The United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations”.

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UNFPA Work on Culture the following definition might be more appropriate:

ØDuring ICPD, UNFPA provided an important international forum for dialogue among civilizations to create the necessary consensus on highly controversial issues. This consensus, however, is being challenged in recent years mostly on cultural and religious grounds. Discussions in the ICPD+5 (as well as the Beijing +5) demonstrate strongly that the

ICPD PoA is being increasingly perceived as

controversial and threatening to culture- specific values.

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Ø the following definition might be more appropriate: This is not new to UNFPA. Since its inception the organization had to navigate its way while dealing with “culturally explosive material” in its policy, programming and advocacy. Reproductive rights, family planning, female genital cutting and women’s empowerment are issues that stir emotions and could be perceived as threatening to the socio-cultural status quo in certain societies.

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Responding effectively and widely to cultural and religious challenges, target groups need to “relate” to human rights principles and gender equity and equality through identifying, in local cultures and religions, values that would serve as linkages to universal rights standards.

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Ø since ICPD, UNFPA leadership concluded that: Adopting a culturally sensitive rights-based approach to programming will allow local communities to express their rights agenda in terms of what they define as physical, psychological and material well-being.

Ø Strengthening and expanding UNFPA alliance with faith and inter-faith based organizations that have endorsed the ICPD PoA is an important strategic direction. Such partnerships would not only facilitate a conducive environment for mutual learning, but would also ensure that programmes are owned by local communities.

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An internal consultation took place in January 2002 for Country Representatives, CSTs andsome headquarters staff to review cultural entry points and constraints that were encountered in programme implementation following ICPD, and to develop a road map for future action. The consultation observed:

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  • That there is need to sensitize partners and stakeholders on issues relating to culture and development.

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  • That there is need for UNFPA to embark on a plan to strengthen and institutionalize the culture lens in UNFPA’s work in order to identify and invoke cultural values that foster the dignity of all people, improve the quality of their life, and promote and assert human rights and gender equity and equality.

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  • This would provide the first but essential step towards transforming UNFPA to a knowledge-based organization in culture and development.

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  • Their extensive feedback contributed to the revision of the proposed framework. A brief on culture was developed taking into consideration the discussion of the conceptual framework.

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P conceptual framework was developed and circulated among parties concerned in UNFPA. roposed Outputs (June 02-May 03)

  • A review will select UNFPA work adopting culturally sensitive approaches in ten countries in four different geographic regions. The review will include the following:

i) Documentations and analysis of lessons learned on UNFPA success.

ii) Comparative study of common success factors/constraints.

iii) Field based inputs for developing guidance for mainstreaming culture into UNFPA programming.

iv) Field based inputs for developing training and learning curricula on culture.

v) Briefings, as appropriate, to UNFPA Regional Planning Meetings to utilize findings as a critical input into the formulation of regional plans of action to strengthen culture sensitive approaches in UNFPA work.

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  • Develop a database on potentially supportive partners among faith and inter-faith based organizations, foundations, international and regional NGO’s. It will be used for creating a forum that facilitates a reaffirmation of consensus in ICPD, and will serve a number of purposes, including networking, advocacy and quick access to partners during “times of crisis”.

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  • A project proposal for institutionalizing the culture lens in UNFPA

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The change we are looking for is that which is based on lessons learned from our 30 years in order to move forward