March 21st is Harmony Day - a day in which Australia celebrates its cultural diversity. It is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. But why are these days important?

A person’s culture - their heritage, religion, dress, diet, values and attitude – is crucial to their sense of identity, and encompasses every aspect of their life. Culture defines the way people live and interact on both local and global scales, and exerts a strong influence on behaviour, business and political decisions, social choices, and the roles of men and women in society. And for those in developing countries who struggle to find food, shelter or gain access to basic education and healthcare; maintaining local culture in the face of hardships such as extreme poverty and displacement, can be the glue that holds their community together.

So what importance should be placed on respecting another culture? How do we ensure that culture is protected in the face of adversity? Even when it’s intended to assist, culture is often the first thing to be affected when aid and development agencies arrive. So what measures need to be taken to ensure that projects designed to assist are carried out in a culturally sensitive manner?

What has to be considered when comparing the needs of men and women? And how do we go about providing support for people in their drive to overcome poverty, while still ensuring their own culture can continue to thrive?

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