Elizabeth Kirchhoff, Research & Education Intern
In 2016, the world is arguably more socially, economically, and politically interconnected than ever before. And yet, while the process of globalization offers humanity the possibility for unprecedented growth, learning, and progress brought on by connectivity, it also presents its own challenges. Perhaps most evident of these trials is the question of how to reconcile the human values of diversity and equality. In a world characterized by global financial inequality, disappearing languages, and mass migrations, the necessity to protect both equality and diversity is perhaps needed now more than ever. Indeed, research findings suggest that cultural and ethnic diversity within a country is correlated with greater levels of inequality as well. And yet, this is not true in all cases, and in order to avoid the pitfalls of cultural and ethnic uniformity and economic inequality in a rapidly globalizing landscape, it imperative to study and learn from countries that excel in both capacities.
Canada, for instance, provides us with an excellent success story. According to a study from the University of Oldenburg, Canada has the greatest level of ethnic and cultural diversity in the Western hemisphere, and is also ranks 9th in the world on the UNDP’s Human Development Index. And so the question becomes, How have they done it? How has Canada, a nation with more than 200 ethnic groups and 200 languages managed to ensure both cultural plurality and relative equality? And perhaps more importantly, can other countries learn from Canada’s success?
While the answer to reconciling diversity with equality is likely to be complex, it is clear that legislation is an important part of the equation. According to the Canadian government, for example, “In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy.” In this way, the administration institutionalized the inherent equality of all human beings and cultures without distinction. What’s more, this national policy no-doubt strengthened Canadian solidarity by founding national identity on the principles of basic human values like inclusion and dignity. These doctrines are further agreed upon in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” This carefully-worded clause provides clear, legal protections for diversity within the human community, and the rest of the world should take note.
Of course, it is also important to acknowledge the limitations of this approach. After all, Canada is not a state with perfect equality, and legislative reform is only part of the solution. Plus, what works for one nation will not necessarily work for all nations, and so it is important to contextualize solutions rather than simply duplicating previous techniques. And yet countries like Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Singapore –where economic equality is in greater harmony with human diversity– should give both individuals and communities hope for the future. In other words, by studying and building on the success stories of successful nations, it is possible to maximize the benefits of our world’s natural diversity while avoiding the economic, political, and social inequalities that threaten to accompany it.
Attributions to this photo can be found here.