Cultural gatekeepers can be agents of change: UNFPA report

November 12th, 2008 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 12 (IANS) In India, sex selection poses a major challenge but cultural gatekeepers can be used to end such discrimination against girls, says the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) state of world population report for 2008 released globally Wednesday. “For a change you will see that UNFPA’s report is less about statistics and numbers and more about cultural concepts of different countries which influence change and development,” Nesim Tumkaya, UNFPA representative said at the launch of the report.

“Since this is the 60th year of the universal declaration of human rights, and because culture is so much a part of human rights, our report this year focusses on culture which most international development agencies ignore or marginalise,” Tumkaya said.

Citing India’s example, he said malpractices like child marriage, sex selection or “honour deaths” are rooted in culture.

“India poses before us a major challenge in sex selection. Culture, we find, is used to discriminate against girls. However the solution does not lie in simply putting a ban on it. One has to understand the logic behind such a practice and then try and modify it.

“Cultural gatekeepers can be the greatest agents of change,” Tumkaya said.

Sayeeda Hameed, member of the Planning Commission, who released the report, stated an example to support Tumkaya’s statement.

“Malegaon in Maharashtra is a Muslim-dominated area. Immunisation of children was a major issue there because mothers believed that this would harm their babies. It’s only when religious clerics were roped in to spread awareness that people came out and the immunisation level shot up,” Hameed said.

The report called “Reaching Common Ground: Culture, Gender and Human Rights” said of the one billion poorest people in the world, three-fifths are women. Of the 960 million illiterate, two-thirds are women.

It also said that 70 percent of the 130 million children out of school are girls.

In the Indian context, the report also highlights human rights violations against Dalits.

In conclusion, the report suggested that approaches should be based on cultural knowledge because they provide viability to policymaking and enable the “cultural politics” required for human rights.

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