Whether helping to foster democracy in the Middle East, teaching adolescents about sexually transmitted diseases in Russia, or denouncing domestic violence in the Solomon Islands, the links between cultural expression and the development agenda are many and varied.
Take Stages of Change; a theatre project supported by the European Union and British Council. Women from the Solomon Islands take part in this travelling community theatre project, which encourages discussion of issues such as how to reduce violence against women and increase women’s participation in civil society and peace-making.
"We are hoping that by doing this we are able to change the attitudes of men, and not only men, but people who believe that violence is not a subject to talk about," said performer Rhonna Marita. “A lot of men who watched our performances were really grateful because it wasn't directive. They didn't feel like information was being imposed on them. Some men cried. Some young boys said 'I think this is the way it should be'."
Group leader Rhian Sanau said culture was a powerful tool with which to combat societal problems, which are themselves cultural.
"Our culture really puts women down, so while we are putting this with our culture it helps the women back in our villages who haven't been out exposing themselves to knowledge of these things."
The European Development Days 2015, held recently in Brussels, included three sessions on culture: ‘The forgotten lifeblood of development,’ ‘A pillar of development cooperation’ and ‘Culture in the Spotlight.’ The former featured Louis Michel, the former European Development and Cooperation Commissioner and now a Member of the European Parliament for the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
“I am convinced that every nation has a message of its own to deliver to the world,” Mr Michel said. “Every nation, every human being has, by its culture and its positive identity, ways to bring to humanity the genius of its imagination, creativity and the expression of its inner wealth.”
"Through these songs people went to the streets and demonstrated and wanted to take their liberty and their freedom,” she said.
In his famous song, El Général, Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor addressed then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Mr. President, today I am speaking in name of myself and of all the people / who are suffering in 2011, there are still people dying of hunger / who want to work to survive, but their voice was not heard […]
Ms Msalmi sees artists as causes of, not just responses to, social change, and believes the European Commission must continue support to civil society organisations, even when this risks antagonising governments. You can watch a video with Ms Msalmi in the Culture and Development in International Cooperation group.
As Michèle Dominique Raymond, the previous Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Humanitarian Affairs with the African, Caribbean & Pacific Group of States, told panellists in Brussels: “The practice of arts and letters can be a powerful tool to convey civic messages and to allow a capacity of thinking about oneself, the ability to discern values and make choices.”
A similar philosophy underpins dance4life, which uses the universal medium of dance to first inspire young people, then to educate and activate them to inform peers about sexual health. The fourth and final step is to celebrate together through dance.
The NGO was represented at the EDDs by Yulia Koval-Molodtsova, who related what it was like to run a dance4life class at a juvenile prison in Russia.
Young people, especially those at-risk, often feel that those who come to talk to them about their sexual and reproductive health are intruding in their lives, so they close themselves off building up barriers.
"I've been working so long with so many young people I feel like every young person has this barrier and that's why dance4life was created,” said Ms Koval-Mododtsova. “We want not to break the barrier, but to have them open up to us."
"They were so overwhelmed by the fact that somebody was trying to connect to their hearts [...] Even if they didn't dance we didn't say it was unsuccessful because they were even more empowered and inspired because somebody tried to get through to their hearts, which nobody ever does. So it was very powerful."
Information on Other Culture Projects
This project, undertaken within the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), seeks to combine "clusters" of companies and institutions to develop products rooted in a country's cultural heritage.
“Cultural heritage and creativity is the raw material to create jobs and generate income opportunities,” said Gerardo Patacconi. Transforming individual talent into clusters and businesses ensures sustainable, industrial development.
More information is here.
This project, funded through the ACP-EU Support Programme to ACP Cultural Sectors, promotes earth-based architecture in Niger.
Discover more on capacity4dev:
- Culture and Development in International Cooperation
- Culture and Development - Action and Impact