There is an urgent need to invest in cultural diversity and dialogue. Integrating cultural diversity into a wide range of public policies – including those somewhat remote from the cultural field proper – can help renew the international community’s approaches to two key objectives: development and peace building and conflict prevention.
Regarding development, culture is increasingly recognized as a cross-cutting dimension of the three economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainability; for there is a cultural dimension to development that should not be underestimated. In this respect, efforts by the international community to adopt new strategies for safeguarding and managing natural resources have been significantly enhanced by the approach offered by cultural diversity, which highlights some of the ways in which indigenous knowledge can direct us towards more sustainable modes of living. It also shows us that poverty – which is an intolerable violation of human rights in terms of both the hardships and the loss of dignity it causes – must be approached in terms of each specific social and cultural setting. Regarding peace and conflict prevention, acknowledging cultural diversity places emphasis on ‘unity in diversity’, the shared humanity inherent in our differences. Far from representing a potential restriction on universally proclaimed human rights, cultural diversity furthers their effective exercise, strengthens social cohesion and provides sources of inspiration for renewing forms of democratic governance. For rights and freedoms are exercised in very varied cultural environments and all have a cultural dimension that needs to be acknowledged so as to ensure their effective integration in different cultural contexts. Similarly, ignoring the increasing multiculturalism make-up of societies would amount to negating the existence of large sections of the population, which compartmentalizes society and damages the social fabric by creating competition between the different communities over access to resources (for education, health, social services) rather than promoting a sense of solidarity. Finally, forms of democratic governance can be renewed by deriving lessons from the different models adopted by diverse cultures.
Recognizing cultural diversity as a resource to be promoted requires that we refine our understanding of it and of intercultural dialogue so as to rid ourselves of a number of preconceptions.