07 November 2010

Culture

I've been doing some thinking about culture lately. When I was in grad school, one of the core classes for my degree (MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution) was titled "Culture, Peace and Conflict Resolution). Essentially, the class looked at the role culture played in causing and resolving conflict. It also asked us the question what is culture. I didn't have the answer then and I don't have the answer now. When I went to Nepal, there was alot of talk about culture. At work, I'm working with a small team to evaluate the effectiveness of a cultural proficiency program that has been implemented in a public school system; thus, I'm still thinking about the question of culture. And tonight I went to the bookstore. I was there in search of a mindless fluff-novel, but instead came home with Nicholas Kristof's Half the Sky - a look at how helping women in developing countries and changing the attitude towards women in these countries can be effective first steps towards alleviating poverty in these nations. I'm looking forward to reading it because this is such an important topic, yet rarely spoken about, until recently. And I'm curious what ways are used to empower women - how do you tailor your methods so they are culturally acceptable? What makes one culture more superior than the other (i.e., is it OK that America is exporting our culture and values to other countries - is ours better?). I've often wondered that, and felt some guilt, going to another country and trying to instill my values. Are my values really any better? You look at America and we are the most prosperous nation in the world. Women in America enjoy immeasurable freedom in comparison to other women in some of the other countries. We have choices in what we want to do with our lives, my marriage to Mark is one with an equal balance of power and shared household duties, and it is completely socially acceptable for me to swim bike and run all day long if I want to. But I know that these things wouldn't hold true in other countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Iran. Let's face it, that's a sad truth. In my view, women and girls in those countries are missing out on so many of these great things in life. And it makes me wonder if they feel the same way, if they feel like they are missing out, or if they feel fulfilled by what their culture has to offer them. I think it's sad that girls are not encouraged to play sports or that they are passed over while educational opportunities are given to their brothers instead. But in the same vein, some countries think it is barbaric that the US allows women to serve in the Armed Forces. Culture is a matter of perspective and I think that, in general (with some exceptions, of course), there is rarely black or white, right or wrong, superior or inferior cultural values. It's a murky subject. In addition, cultures can undergo change and evolve into new and different cultures, with a different set of shared norms and values. So, there is hope that socially acceptable oppression of girls in other nations might eventually be eradicated through cultural change.

I'll let you know what I think of the book, but I already believe it's going to be a very interesting read.

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