Cultural Diplomacy: It’s the Culture, Stupid

Cultural Diplomacy: It’s the Culture, Stupid

Over time we have come to realize that culture is the obstacle, and that culture is the best way to change culture. -- Alyse Nelson, President, Vital Voices

The word "culture" conveys multiple meanings. Alyse Nelson, president of the non-governmental organization Vital Voices, which promotes women's empowerment globally, notes that "culture" in the anthropological sense is often evoked as a rationale for limiting women's roles in society, while "culture," meaning creative expression, can present a vision of an attractive alternative lifestyle or solution that can break the stranglehold of tradition. When Vital Voices works with local partners in different parts of the world to open up opportunities for women and girls, opposition to these changes in society often comes in the form of people saying, "That goes against our culture." Ms. Nelson, who has no arts background, has been surprised to discover that creative expression -- providing a platform for women to tell their own stories -- has the greatest potential to dismantle these cultural barriers.

"Seven," a powerful documentary play that tells the stories of seven courageous women leaders within the Vital Voices Global Partnership Network, has electrified audiences in New York, London, and elsewhere. Written by seven American female playwrights, in collaboration with seven woman leaders, "Seven" gives voice to extraordinary women -- such as Muktar Mai, who pressed legal charges against the men who gang-raped her in an act sanctioned by her Pakistani village government. Through "Seven," Vital Voices discovered the truism observed by Nigerian author Wole Soyinka: that culture has the capacity to humanize while politics tends to demonize. If Vital Voices has found an obstacle in "culture," in the anthropological sense of customs and behaviors, it has found a strong ally in "culture," as in creative expression.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review