RAWALPINDI, Nov 13: Development strategies that are sensitive to cultural values can reduce harmful practices against women and promote human rights, including gender equality and women’s empowerment, affirms a new United Nations report released on Thursday.
The ‘State of World Population 2008’ report issued from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says culture is a central component of successful development of poor countries, and must be integrated into development policy and programming.
The report which coincides with this year’s 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that culturally sensitive approaches call for cultural fluency – familiarity with how cultures work, and how to work with them. “Reaching common ground: culture, gender and human rights” was the theme of the report.
Despite international agreements, including most recently the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the report points out that gender inequality remains widespread and deeply rooted in many cultures.
Women and girls are three-fifth of the world’s one billion poorest people and women are two-third of the 960 million adults in the world who cannot read, and girls are 70 per cent of the 130 million children who are out of schools.
The report cautions that cultural sensitivity and engagement do not mean acceptance of harmful traditional practices or a free pass for human rights abuses but the reverse of it. Values and practices that infringe human rights can be found in all cultures. Understanding cultural realities can reveal the most effective ways to challenge these harmful cultural practices and strengthen beneficial ones.
Despite many declarations and affirmations in support of women’s rights, the report argues, gender inequality is widespread and deep rooted in many cultures.
Coercive power relations underlie practices such as child marriage, a leading cause of obstetric fistula and maternal death, the report says. These and other harmful practices continue in many countries despite laws against them. Women may even support them, believing that they protect their children and themselves.
The report emphasises the importance of a culturally sensitive approach not only to development, but also to humanitarian response. It stresses that humanitarian assistance in conflicts must protect whatever progress women have made towards gender equality, including reproductive health and rights.
Describing women as victims and men as aggressors ignores cultural realities and the variety of responsibilities that women take in wartime as heads of household, breadwinners, caregivers and combatants. The report concludes that the cumulative impact of economic and social change is forcing cultures to change in response, but successful adaptation depends on understanding what is happening and responding to it.
Describing women as victims and men as aggressors ignores the variety of responsibilities that women take in wartime, as heads of household, breadwinners, caregivers and combatants.
Policies and approaches must recognise people’s resilience and resourcefulness, and what has changed as a result of conflict, says the report. Failure to do so may exclude women and minorities, including people with disabilities, from involvement in setting post-conflict priorities and development strategies.
Culturally sensitive approaches are also needed for people coping with trauma, meeting refugees’ needs for sexual and reproductive health care, building partnerships with local organisations and helping people retain or recover their sense of cultural identity amid the ravages of war.
Women’s position as ‘guardians of culture’ often makes them a target in war. The woman suffers doubly, says the report, as communities may view her as tainted or worthless and she may suffer further violence as a result.
Militarisation of a culture makes violence more likely and more acceptable, holding women back from empowerment and equality.
At the same time, they bear additional responsibilities and costs, such as acting as heads of household in the absence of men. Men who feel that they have failed in their duty to protect their families may become resentful and violent.