In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a network of over 3,000 political and corporate leaders and civil society activists gathered for the third UN Alliance of Civilisation Forum and agreed on joint actions to improve relations across cultures.
Brazilian President Lula opened the session. The main aim is to support projects building bridges between cultures and communities, to improve understanding and cooperation among nations peoples and religions, helping to combat polarization and extremism.
Delegates from all over the world analysed the problems of bridging the gap between different cultures, and reinforcing human rights. Issues discussed included the roles of media and new media, democracy and good governance and empowering women through education.
The Egyptian Minister for Family and Population, Moushira Khattab, spoke about the role of women in the Arabic world and in Egypt in particular: “I am very sad that this new wave of conservatism, using religion as an alibi, is targeting women. It is mostly discrimination and violence against women.”
To counter the situation, she said: “We focus on education. We focus on girls’ education. You have to have a systematic approach: you cannot raise a girl marginalised, all her life, and then when she is grown up you expect her to act as an equal. She will lack the self confidence; she will not have the ability to compete or to even serve the society.”
The President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez De Kirchner was also at the Forum. She believes that respect for human rights is key: “Human rights is a fundamental policy for us; I mean that the physical and psychological integrity of people is sacred in all religions, in the Koran, the Talmud, the Bible. It is a set of common, universal values which cross all religions: respect for the person. If we take that as a base, we should have fewer problems with living together.”
Young people from all over the world presented projects to build associations, schools for children, websites, and media platforms, sometimes running serious risks.
Hani Hayaimeh is a Jordanian journalist, and his colleague Ruth Eglash is an Israeli journalist. Defying the tensions, they have both managed to write articles for publications on the other side of the fence.
Hani Hayaimeh explained: “The main obstacle for Jordanians is that Israel has been perceived as the enemy for many many years and for me working with an Israeli has been considered by many Jordanians as if I were working with the enemy. The main challenge has been to accept the criticism.”
A selection of short films dealing with discrmination was also shown at the Forum. Fanny Ardant presented a story set in Italy about a traveller child who was banned from eating in the school canteen with the other kids.
She said: “Travellers belong to a special community, who have always defended their freedom, their differences. It’s like a red line across Europe, an alliance of people who will not conform, who will not get in line. They are the poetry party of Europe. You have to respect that, preserve it.”
The Alliance of Civilizations Forum will be held in Doha, Qatar next year.
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