Culture is and always has been central to development. As a natural and fundamental dimension of people’s lives, culture must be integrated into development policy and programming. A report from the United Nations Population Fund shows how this process works in practice.

The starting point of the report is the universal validity of the international human rights framework. The focus is therefore on discussing and showcasing how culturally sensitive approaches are critical for the realization of human rights in general and women’s rights in particular.

The report gives an overview of the conceptual frameworks as well as the practice of development, looking at the everyday events that make up people’s experience of development. Culturally sensitive approaches call for cultural fluency – familiarity with how cultures work, and how to work with them. The report presents some of the challenges and dilemmas of culturally sensitive strategies and suggests how partnerships can address them.
Conclusions
•       International development agencies ignore culture – or marginalize it – at their peril. Advancing human rights requires an appreciation of the complexity, fluidity and centrality of culture by intentionally identifying and partnering with local agents of change.
•       Approaches based on cultural knowledge provide viability to policymaking – and enable the “cultural politics” required for human rights.
•       Cultural fluency determines how systems of meanings, economic and political opposition, or supportive policies develop – and can be developed.
•       To develop cultural fluency, UNFPA proposes a “culture lens” as a programming tool.
•       Culturally sensitive approaches investigate how variables such as economic status, politics, law, class, age, gender, religion and ethnicity intersect and lead to divergent understandings and manifestations of power.
•       Culturally sensitive approaches call for different analytical and operational frameworks, and for introspection within the development community.

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