Cultural diversity is an integral part of sustainable development. In fact it has been called the fourth pillar of sustainability. The UN General Assembly has declared that May 21 is the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This day is an opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation of each others cultures. This helps us to build a more inclusive society based on common civic values. Although it may seem paradoxical, encouraging cultural diversity can help us to find the common ground for living together. When people are secure in their right to live their lives according to their cultural values, they are better able to enter relations of dialogue and co-operation.
According to the 1982 Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies, culture is “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group.” This definition espouses the fundamental human right to practice the distinctive way of life of their tradition. This is the meaning of Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other articles that affirm everyone’s right to freedom of expression and opinion, association, and choice of education for one’s children.
Article 13 of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions states that Parties shall endeavor to integrate culture in their development policies at all levels for the creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development.
Despite the importance of cultural diversity, the recognition of their role in sustainable development is not well designed in the international community. World Day for Cultural Diversity strives to address this problem alongside a number of forums, events and papers.
As part of the May 21 activities UNESCO and the UN Alliance of Civilization launched a grassroots campaign called ‘Do One Thing For Diversity and Inclusion’. This activity encourages people and organizations to take concrete action to support diversity and raise awareness about the importance of intercultural dialogue, diversity and inclusion. This effort combats polarization and stereotypes to improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures. People are encouraged to share their experiences through posts and videos on their Facebook page.
On May 18 and 19, 2015, Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan held the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue around the theme, “Sharing Culture for a Shared Security”.
At the Rio summit in 2012 there was a discussion about the role cultural diversity as the 4th pillar of sustainability. The main objective of this side event was to characterize and to highlight the role of culture and cultural diversity as the 4th pillar of sustainable development.
The event discussed the environment and sustainable development from a multidisciplinary perspective. It incorporated Brazilian, global case studies and good practices that demonstrate the interlinkage between culture and nature, cultural diversity and sustainable development as well as the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability.
The discussion showed how culture and cultural diversity may help in the decrease of the driving forces of unsustainability. It also highlighted how the multilateral agreements on culture and cultural diversity may be considered as tools to achieve the sustainable development and integrated into policy.
The Bahia Cultural Foundation explained that cultural diversity plays an important role in sustainable development. Culture fosters economic growth, helps individuals and communities to expand their life choices. It is important to adapt to change and raising the resilience of social-ecological systems. As the cultural diversity creates a rich and varied world, which increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values, and therefore is a mainspring for sustainable development for communities, peoples and nations.
A 1995 report from UNESCO’s World Commission on Culture and Development, titled Our Creative Diversity, stated that any national policy of “nation-building” that seeks to make all groups homogeneous – or to allow one to dominate – is neither desirable nor feasible. A nation that believes in creative diversity needs to create a sense of itself as a civic community, freed from any connotations of ethnic exclusivity.
At the 1995 Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, in Stockholm, Canada was recognized for its cutting-edge policies promoting cultural diversity. One example of this is the effort of the Canada Council for the Arts to bring Aboriginal artists into the mainstream of its programmes. See “The Power of Culture,” Final Declaration and Plan of Action.
Also in 1995 the International Forum For Solidarity Against Intolerance and for a Dialogue of Cultures, was held in Tbilisi, the Republic of Georgia. This event alerted the international community to the urgency of counteracting and eliminating aggressive intolerance in its various manifestations.