Enabling Intercultural Dialogue

Blog of Evelyne Para, SI UN Representative at UNESCO, Paris.

“Two major events were organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in September 2022 on the theme of intercultural dialogue, in order to promote and disseminate values, attitudes and behaviours conducive to learning to live together with equal dignity, to non-violence and sustainable peace.

On 20 September 2022 at UNESCO Paris, UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector launched the Global Framework to Foster Intercultural Dialogue, showcasing concrete implementations and success stories.

From 28 to 30 September 2022 in Mexico City, at the invitation of UNESCO and Mexico, 150 States participated in MONDIACULT 2022, a major world conference dedicated to Culture. They unanimously adopted an ambitious Declaration recognising culture as a “global public good”, and agreeing on a common roadmap to strengthen public policies in this area.

Focus on the first of these meetings which took place in Paris… 

Let’s get talking about intercultural dialogue

Intercultural dialogue, a transformative form of communication between groups and individuals of diverse ‘cultures’ or identities, based on respect, empathy, and openness, can enable us to harness the power of our diversity and address global challenges related to inequality, divisive political speeches, to discrimination, intolerance, migrations, and violent extremism.

Faced with the persistence of these global challenges, and to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 in line with their promise to “leave no one behind”, UNESCO has highlighted the first conclusions of the new “Global Framework to Foster Intercultural Dialogue”. In doing so, UNESCO wanted to promote a constructive and transformative dialogue, with the aim of rendering intercultural dialogue a tool for conflict prevention, sustainable peace, and respect for human rights.

On this occasion, UNESCO published a report entitled “We need to talk: Measuring intercultural dialogue for peace and inclusion”.

Produced in partnership with the Institute for the Economy and Peace, this report is based on concrete data: 89% of all current conflicts is occurring in countries where dialogue is failing, 91% of refugees in 2020 were coming from countries where dialogue is failing, that’s where we also have 77% less gender equality! This report explains why and how intercultural dialogue, conceived as a transformative form of communication, has the capacity to strengthen ties, relationships, and trust between people, groups and public bodies, and, thereby, to contribute to many outcomes that make peaceful and productive societies possible.

But what are the conditions and actions that help defuse tension, educate and inform participants, and, in the final analysis, create true and fair communication across difference?

How to create transformative communication? What to do in practice… 

Intercultural dialogue invites us to question the systems and habits that shape and define our societies: Are we teaching our young people the skills required to meet people of diverse origins and identities in their schools? Do our media platforms offer inclusive and diverse spaces to encourage debate and critical reflection on current issues? Are our cities designed to inspire communities to come together for sharing and supporting each other?

The UNESCO report describes case studies featuring one performing state from each of the global regions. The selected countries are Finland from Europe and North America, Ghana from Africa, Jamaica from Latin America and the Caribbean, New Zealand from Asia and the Pacific and Oman from the Arab States. Each case study provides a detailed analysis of each state’s strengths and weaknesses in the Intercultural Dialogue domains, and outlines examples of successful institutions, policy initiatives and practices which support effective transformative communication in practice.

Taking a few examples from the fields of education, media and ICT, arts and culture, local governance and urban planning and political negotiation, the UNESCO report examines the elements that support intercultural dialogue.

>>> Education

Two fundamental elements of education contribute to intercultural dialogue:

– Firstly, the content of education (the school program) insofar as it gives learners the skills required to understand a complex world, critical analysis skills, but also affective and social skills;

– Secondly, the creation of spaces and possibilities for intercultural dialogue, where pupils and students discover the otherness of cultures, languages and people.

Education also lays the foundations for active citizenship. But above all, the quality of education depends on the skills of educators and their ability to transmit these skills.

>>> Media and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Provided that they are not a source of disinformation or dissemination of fake news, the media and ICT constitute platforms for public debate and interaction between people, cultures and groups. They can give voice to the most diverse actors and offer opportunities for constructive and respectful dialogue in order to address, through debate and negotiation, issues such as power relations or grievances inherited from the past.

>>> Arts and Culture

The places dedicated to them, such as museums and galleries, are privileged contact areas to be promoted. Forms of artistic expression such as painting, sculpture, dance, music, poetry and literature play a central role in intercultural dialogue. Art is a universal language that provides a wealth of opportunities for learning and reflection.

>>> Local government and urban planning

Confronted on the front line with issues relating to human rights, social cohesion and confidence of their fellow citizens, local authorities are necessarily concerned with common values inspired by intercultural principles. They play an important role in the creation of spaces for intercultural dialogue and in the implementation of conditions access to labour market and to services, to educational, learning and leisure activities throughout life…

>>> Political negotiation

Its purpose is to reach an agreement, to ensure that the differences on a given subject became a new opinion adopted by common agreement. In the context of political negotiation, intercultural dialogue has much in common with facilitation and mediation.

In this area in particular, but also in larger programs on peace building and security, the elements supporting intercultural dialogue are rarely taken into account. In other words, intercultural dialogue is too infrequently applied to the situations in which it would be most needed: the long-lasting and deep difficulties caused by the fight against inequalities, climate change and migrations, to name only some examples.

In summary, intercultural dialogue should be the objective towards which global public policies should aim. It should be defined as a cross-cutting objective at the crossroads of social, educational, migration and cultural policies as well as labour and gender equality policies.

To know more, please visit the following :

UNESCO Mondial ReportWe need to talk: Measuring intercultural dialogue for peace and inclusion

MONDIACULT 2022 in Mexico City

Declaration of the Member States at the end of UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – MONDIACULT 2022 (28-30 September 2022, Mexico City)

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