Article by Evelyne Para
SI UN Representative at UNESCO
“Every year, in many parts of the world, we celebrate two important International Days in September. These Days are an opportunity for the public authorities but also for the civil society to which belongs our international NGO, to organise awareness-raising activities and to mobilise resources.
The first Day is the 8th of September, proclaimed since 1966 as International Literacy Day, which recalls the fundamental human right of access for all to a quality education, on an equal footing, as well as opportunities for learning throughout later life.
In 2019, this Day will focus on “Literacy and Multilingualism“, an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of language and its diversity for individuals and society. Despite the progress made, the problems of literacy still persist today, unevenly distributed between countries and populations. Taking into account linguistic diversity in the development of education and literacy is essential so that no one is left behind. Multilingualism contributes to the development of inclusive societies that enable multiple cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems to coexist and be fertilised. It’s also characteristic of many marginalised populations, including migrants, refugees and others on the move.
UNESCO’s works seek to identify the main factors that make policies and programs to promote literacy and multilingualism more inclusive and effective. For example, UNESCO advocates for literacy in the learners’ mother tongue as the optimal medium. Many of us take for granted that we can live our lives in our mother tongue without constraints or prejudices. But this is not the case for everyone.
Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s identity, cultural history, transmission of traditions and memory. But despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate. With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness not only of the people who speak these languages, but also of others people to appreciate the important contribution these indigenous languages make to our world’s rich cultural diversity.
Indigenous peoples, through their languages, values, knowledge systems and know-how, are holders of valuable knowledge to find just and lasting paths for the living world and for all humanity, particularly for the protection of the environment and biodiversity on a global scale. For indigenous peoples, languages identify not only their origin or membership in a community, but also the ethical values of their ancestors – the indigenous knowledge systems that unite them to the land and are essential to their survival, to hope and the aspirations of their youth. They are the heirs of a great linguistic and cultural diversity, as well as ancestral customs and traditions. They have no less than 5,000 different cultures and speak the vast majority of the 7,000 or so languages of the world.
These indigenous languages are important for social, economic and political development, peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in our societies. Yet many of these Aboriginal languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, with the communities speaking them facing assimilation, forced relocation, educational disadvantage, poverty, illiteracy, climate change, loss of their territories and the degradation of their subsistence economies, migration and other forms of discrimination and violation of human rights. Given the complex systems of knowledge and culture developed and accumulated by these local languages over thousands of years, their disappearance would be tantamount to losing some sort of cultural treasure. It would deprive us of the richness of the diversity they add to our world and their ecological, economic and sociocultural contribution.
The second important Day celebrated in September is September 21, titled International Day of Peace for which, since 1981, the United Nations has called upon the nations and peoples of the world to lay down their arms and commit themselves to coexist in harmony.
We need to build together a world in which we can live in harmony with others and with our environment. More and more, global climate emergency threatens security and stability. Because of its devastating consequences, millions of people are deserting the shores and inland, now uninhabitable, in search of a safe place and a better life. Disasters and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and violent, and disputes over resource depletion are likely to degenerate into climate conflicts.
That is why, in the perspective of the 2019 International Day of Peace, the United Nations calls on all actors to take action to combat climate change, with the slogan: “Climate action, action for peace“. This slogan, echoed by all young people around the world who understand their future is at stake, stresses the importance of real action against climate change as a means to protect and promote world peace.
Today, climate change is an obvious threat to international peace and security. Natural disasters move three times more people than conflicts, forcing millions to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere. Salinisation of water and crops endangers food security and the impact on public health increases. Increasing tensions around vital resources (water, air, forests …) affect all countries on all continents.
In conclusion, Multilingualism and Climate Action are Actions for Peace. We can no longer ignore that “we cannot negotiate with nature” and that “no single country can meet the great challenges of our time“. These interrelated challenges that we face today call for a global citizen consciousness, that is, the consciousness of belonging to the same “human family”, rich in diversity, sharing the natural resources and biodiversity of the same and only planet Earth, ethically responsible, a consciousness which shows solidarity, mobilising concrete actions emphasising the political, economic, social and cultural interdependence, and on the interconnection between the local, the national and the world-wide, as well between States, international bodies and civil societies.”