The Right to Development: Exploring Its Social and Cultural Dimensions
It is suggested that, far from being of secondary concern, social and cultural considerations should form the basis for all development planning.
The reasons are as follows:
- Nations are composed of people, living according to established cultural and social patterns -- they are not simply political or economic units. General Assembly Resolution 34/46 places the emphasis firmly where it belongs by stating that the right to development is a human right both of nations and of individuals within nations. Consequently, the aim of development should be to create an environment, rooted in new social and cultural values, in which each individual member of society can contribute constructively towards his own well-being and towards that of his family, his community and his country.
- A uniform system of development will not suit all nations. Development choices must be made in consultation with the nation concerned and must be based upon the existing condition of that nation -- in other words, upon the nature of its society and culture.
- Development programmes can only be effective and provide lasting benefits if they are essentially in harmony with existing social and cultural patterns. Development programmes which ignore existing systems and values are offensive, resented and, as a result, will have no firm or enduring foundation in the society which they seek to benefit.
- At the same time, a study of social and cultural patterns will enable development planners to identify areas of strength and weakness, and to formulate plans which will exploit the former and minimize or eliminate the latter. A nation which, for example, has a very strong family and community structure may also be a nation which denies its women basic education. Such factors -- both positive and negative -- must be known and understood and taken into account.
- Development is change -- and in change, the social and cultural consequences must be taken into account. With proper planning, development can provide social and cultural enhancement and advancement: without it, development can lead to the destruction of cultures and the breakdown of societies.
If development means change, what kind of change do we want to see? What are the objectives of development? Or, more fundamentally, what kind of world society would be desirable?
The goal of the international community is to build a world family of nations, whose members have equal rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities, and share a dedication to peace and to the upholding of a common set of human values; to create a global society which protects the human rights of every member, respects his dignity and individuality, and provides for the full development of his potential, so that he may be of service to his fellow human beings and make his contribution towards the building of an ever-advancing civilization.
Such a definition envisages a unified world -- but not a uniform world. The diversity of the human family is both its glory and its strength, for the diversity of humanity (both physical and cultural) is proof of the success with which man has adapted to the diverse conditions existing on his planet. Modes of life, of dress, of construction, of diet, of husbandry -- all have their roots in the natural environment of a particular nation or people. A development plan which recognizes this fact will draw upon traditional local knowledge, and will seek to improve existing methods and to increase local resources by means which are compatible with the existing culture and environment.
In today's world, with its sharp division between rich and poor nations, privileged and underprivileged nations, the main focus of development is inevitably directed towards providing the most basic human rights -- the right to adequate housing, proper nutrition, health care, education. Consequently, development often is very much (but should not be) a one-way street: development aid flows from the economically and technologically advanced nations to the nations which lack wealth and technology.
Yet it is clear to any unbiased observer that the raising of basic standards of living -- although urgent and necessary in many parts of the world -- will not in itself lead to the betterment of society. Consider the nations of North America and Western Europe, which currently are experiencing unprecedentedly high levels of violent crime, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, mental illness, abandonment of standards of morality, breakdown of family life -- the list is endless.
Indeed, any truly global development strategy would involve all the nations of the world, and would include the redevelopment of the nations which are currently described as "developed" -- redevelopment which would concern itself with the use of natural resources, protection of the environment, strengthening of family and community life, moral as well as academic education. In all these areas, the developed world has much to learn from the developing world.
In the meantime, how can the international community ensure that development, as it is practiced today, will be a real and lasting benefit to the developing nations, without at the same time producing the harmful side-effects of "civilization"?
The answer lies in formulating a development strategy which:
- takes as its goal the creation of a unified but diverse world society, as described above;
fully investigates all the likely social and cultural consequences of any proposed development programmes, to ensure that these programmes will not:
- be detrimental to minority groups within the developing country;
- deprive existing communities of their traditional means of livelihood;
- disrupt family and community life by concentrating jobs in urban areas thus resulting in "urban drift";
- create new administrative structures which run counter to existing local administrative structures, and undermine traditional authority;
- introduce new, highly mechanized techniques which can be sustained only by overseas "experts";
- works closely with the leaders of developing countries in determining which development choices are most suited to that country;
- >ensures acceptance of development programmes by ensuring that, as far as possible, they harmonize with the social and cultural patterns of the developing country;
- wherever possible, seeks to use traditional knowledge, improve existing methods and increase local productivity;
- always involve the "grass roots" through existing administrative structures (e.g. village councils) in implementing development.