Cultural Conundrums: ‘State of World Population 2008’November 21, 2008 By Calyn OstrowskiReleased at the National Press Club on November 12, 2008, the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2008 encourages policymakers and the development community to embrace culturally aware approaches to achieving human rights such as gender equality and reproductive health. Noting the role local culture plays in these issues, the report makes suggestions for addressing traditional attitudes toward maternal mortality, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and contraceptive use, highlighting the need to develop alliances with local opinion leaders in program design and service delivery.
U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) urged both policymakers and development professionals to carry out development projects within the context of local cultural norms. According to Maloney, the Obama administration has promised to allocate funds to help implement the report’s recommendations. Azza Karam, senior culture advisor with UNFPA, explained that much development work still does not guarantee women’s rights and argued that State of World Population 2008 includes effective approaches to addressing harmful cultural practices. Karam encouraged the development community to approach culture pragmatically, demonstrating to local community leaders how changes in cultural practices benefit the whole community.
State of World Population 2008 devotes an entire chapter to the need to include women in post-conflict reconstruction, using case studies to demonstrate how gender equality can be incorporated into a variety of different peace interventions. The report pushes policymakers and program managers to endorse gender-sensitive approaches and abandon preconceptions that women lack the expertise to assist in long-term peacebuilding. Increasing women’s participation in post-conflict reconstruction “can help development practitioners mitigate some of the ill effects of conflict, minimize deterioration in gender relations and work with local communities and relevant stakeholders” to ensure women’s rights such as reproductive health and gender equality.
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