Culture shapes the way we see the world. It therefore has the capacity to bring about the change of attitudes needed to ensure peace and sustainable development which, we know, form the only possible way forward for life on planet Earth. Today, that goal is still a long way off. A global crisis faces humanity at the dawn of the 21st century, marked by increasing poverty in our asymmetrical world, environmental degradation and short-sightedness in policy-making. Culture is a crucial key to solving this crisis.
In this time of globalisation … the poor are the most vulnerable to having their traditions, relationships, and knowledge and skills ignored and denigrated … Their culture … can be among their most potent assets, and among the most ignored and devastated by development programmes.
Culture is important in the processes of social and economic development. Socially, it provides for the continuity of ways of life that people in a region or country see as significant to personal and group identity. Economically, various forms of cultural expression such as music, dance, literature, sport and theatre provide employment as well as enjoyment for many people. These contribute increasingly large amounts of money to the economies of most countries every year.
Cultural diversity is an important human right. It is a cornerstone of citizenship in any society. However, historical pressures and domestic political trends have limited the right to cultural autonomy and expression of some citizens. As a result, many minority peoples have been marginalised from the development processes in their own countries. This is tragic both for the marginalised groups and for development trajectory of the wider society. As a result, the 1998 World Cultural Report stated that:
… considerable imagination is needed to build the participatory institutional spaces where diverse voices can express themselves, whether in the management of local environmental issues, the organization of local urban life, or the operation of political institutions of functioning democracies.
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