Culturally Sensitive Approaches

The Culture Lens

The culture lens is an approach promoted by UNFPA that can advance the goals of programming effectively and efficiently with strong community acceptance and ownership.It is an analytical and programming tool that helps policy makers and development practitioners to analyse, understand and utilize positive cultural values, assets and structures in their planning and programming processes, so as to reduce resistance to the ICPD Programme of Action, strengthen programming effectiveness and create conditions for ownership and sustainability of UNFPA programmes, especially in the areas of women's empowerment and promotion of reproductive health and rights.

A culture lens clarifies:

These perspectives can help policy makers and development practitioners to achieve the goals of development programming more effectively and efficiently, with stronger community acceptance and ownership by:

A culture lens can help illuminate the basis for social practices that are harmful to people and hinder their enjoyment of human rights. It can inform project designs that fit the diverse national and local contexts, without losing sight of the human rights that they are promoting. It encourages finding locally grown solutions to ensure ownership and sustainability of development results. A training manual created by UNFPA discusses the culture lens in greater detail and explains how it can be integrated into programming.

These kinds of results are possible, and are occurring in many UNFPA projects because cultures are dynamic, interactive and subject to change. People are not only products of their cultures, but also active actors who can contribute to their change. When their attitudes and beliefs are respected, clients and partners may be very open to changes that contribute to the well-being of their communities and the human rights of all individuals.

Appreciating the Wealth of the Poor

Though they lack income and material goods, many impoverished communities have considerable socio-cultural assets. These include rituals, reciprocal relationships, traditional knowledge and skills, as well as informal support systems that deliver products or services in normal times and in times of crisis. This is the social capital that helps tightly knit communities survive and overcome harsh circumstances.

In the past, such assets have often gone unrecognized and unexplored.

But in recent years, partly in response to earlier failures, a greater interest in socio-cultural and institutional dimensions of development has emerged. More emphasis is given community participation and people-centred approaches.

The use of a culture lens is one such approach. Applying a culture lens includes acknowledging, appreciating and working with the social capital that exists in many communities. This may be especially critical in places where traditions and sociocultural assets are being eroded by the effects of globalization.