Zambia

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Zambia, an independent nation since 1964, with a stable democracy, is one of the youngest, and fastest growing, nations on earth, anticipated by UN to triple its population of 16.5 million by the year 2050. It is also one of the world’s most heavily indebted nations and has one of the highest levels of economic inequality, with an HDI ranked at 139th globally and 58% of its population below the international poverty line, especially in rural areas where 56.5% of the population resides.

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Zambia, in conjunction with Zimbabwe, made up the former British colony of Rhodesia. Zambia’s first president was in office for 27 years, and allegedly attempted a coup during the term of his successor; the 3rd and 4th presidents died in office. Since 2015, the current president has served. Freedom and independence were hard-won, and the road to a stable democracy has not always been easy — but those who fought for Zambia’s freedom are honoured.

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Before colonisation by the British empire, the region was made up of many independent, tribally-based states. Zambia today is highly multicultural, a fact enshrined in its constitution, with 75 tribes and 17 ethnic groups. Urban centres are moderately integrated, while rural areas remain segregated and living traditions prevail, including many annual, ancestral, and rite-of-passage ceremonies. Although the constitution identifies the country as “Christian” and its populace identifies as 75% Protestant and 20% Catholic, religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed — and most people maintain elements of traditional belief systems.

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Traditional gender roles are also largely maintained in Zambia, and the country’s Gender Inequality Index is at 125th globally. The Education Act (2011) guarantees equal education for all, but in practice, families educate sons far more than daughters; women’s labour market participation is above 78%, though it is generally low-paid work and men own the property and control supply channels; and, although 51% of the population is female, women hold less than 12% of the parliamentary seats. The Ministry of Gender and Child Development was established in 2012 and a National Gender Policy in 2014, with high aims to bring about a more equal society.

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Zambia has one of the world’s youngest populations for some less-than-positive reasons. With one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates, there is a huge orphan crisis; birth rates are also high, and adolescent marriage and maternity commonplace.  Life expectancy is just 59 (male) / 64 (female), placing Zambia 226th of 228 countries globally, with a 16.9 median age, 94% of the population under 54 years of age — and 46% under the age of fourteen.20181211_101450

Zambia, like many African countries, has a history of slave trade from early 18th through late 19th centuries — with Europeans and also Arabs acting as merchants, inciting local tribes to war in order to capture and sell others into slavery. This legacy lives on today — in the form of human trafficking. Zambia has been identified as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children forced into labour or sexual exploitation.20181211_102047

Another concern in Zambia is the issue of witchcraft, or sorcery, and witch-hunting. The Witchcraft Act of Zambia (1914) has recently come under review due to a number of high-profile cases; witch-finders, though the profession is illegal, continue to practice, and the accused are often the subject of crowd vigilantism.20181212_114104~2

According to Hofstede’s 6-Dimension Model of Culture, Zambians are primarily egalitarian though somewhat hierarchical, far more collectivist than individualist, and more ‘feminine’ than ‘masculine’ — prone to cooperative governance, social welfare, and an emphasis on quality of life over a need to succeed. Despite its problems, Zambia remains vibrant, working to create a better society for all. While Zambians retain strong tribal connection and identity, a national identity has also grown — a blend of the values, norms, and traditions of 75 distinct tribes into “One Zambia, One Nation”.

~EWP

Slovakia

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Slovakia is a young country — with a long history. A national consciousness began to emerge in the 18th century, however, and Slavic peoples have inhabited the region for millennia, but Slovakia has only been an independent nation since 1993 — and in many ways is still forging its identity.

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Since its break from the former Czechoslovakia, in a peaceful process known as the Velvet Revolution — or Divorce, the economy of Slovakia has steadily improved. With a very high quality of life today, this Central European country has a cost of living akin to that of Western Europe — though salaries, especially outside of the capital of Bratislava, are more in line with those of Eastern Europe, which causes economic tension for many. Having been part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, Slovaks are socioculturally aligned with Hungarians, less so with Czechs and Austrians.

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Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed in Slovakia, though a majority of the populace (62%) identifies as Roman Catholic. Common values include family and other relationships / personal connections, success / status, flexibility, politeness / indirectness, and mutual aid. The country ranks highly for human rights, though the significant Romany population is a focus for discrimination.

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As with much of Europe, Slovakia experienced a 20th century filled with turmoil. Having been a fascist state of Nazi Germany 1939-1945, Czechoslovakia, as the region was then known, was a totalitarian state 1948-1993, when it was dissolved into the two separate nations of Slovakia and Czech Republic (now Czechia). The legacy of this totalitarian era has not yet been fully overcome, and Slovakia still struggles with corruption, intimidation, murder, and graft; the country is still working to develop liberal democracy, market economy, rule of law, and civil society.

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There is a pronounced generational gap in the country. Older Slovaks can be heard fondly reminiscing about their totalitarian past, in terms of stability and safety, high employment and low cost of living, and gender equality. Young Slovaks report a strong European identity, while also seeing the EU as a threat to national sovereignty; they also express a distrust in government and frustration with high unemployment — and, a willingness to trade a measure of democracy for increased economic stability.

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Gender equality in Slovakia is remarkably low, for a post-Communist country: 36.5/100, the second-lowest ranking in all of Europe. Worst areas: time / responsibility balance, a limit of available areas of study in tertiary education, low salary and pension with high poverty rates, and low government representation  with just 20% of parliament seats held by women. (The country does currently have its first female president, though the prime minister is head-of-state.) Other areas of concern: 52.8% labour market (EU target: 75%) , with discrimination in economic opportunities (score: 26); violence against women; distinct social roles. Improvement has been seen in projects for female entrepreneurship, IT/RD fields, men’s involvement in childcare, decrease in pay gap, and a decrease in gender-based violence.

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According to Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions model, the country scores 100% for both power distance (hierarchical nature) and masculinity (competitive / achievement-oriented, assertive, status-conscious), with a long-term focus and moderate risk aversion; the society rates near-equally between individualism and collectivism, and low for indulgence. Slovakia is a young nation in terms of independence, with great potential; its rich history and living traditions, as well as a strong family structure based on an earlier kinship system, provide a solid foundation.

~EWP

A word from our director, Dr Anne

20161231_180635Hello, everyone. I’ve been thinking of friends and colleagues all around the world, during this very difficult time. And I’ve been contemplating, as so many of us have, what the world will look like when the health crisis has passed — the economic downturn, and the enormous changes that have already taken place, and where they may lead. Many predictions, but no one — not even top experts — can say with any certainty just where we’re heading.

And — intercultural understanding. And travel, to experience and learn about, and from, our many cultures around the world. This is currently impossible — and may not be so easy in the revised global community to come.

Currently, I write to you from Istanbul, where I am sheltering in place. Earlier this year, I spent 7 weeks in Hong Kong, where EWP is based — and during the throes of their early experience with this health crisis.

For these past 2 years, however, I’ve traveled continuously, no fixed home — while, since January 2005, I’ve lived in several countries (other than my homeland) and traveled widely — 105 countries + 5 territories thus far, many of them repeatedly.

I’ve been forging ahead, at times testing my endurance — for the experience itself, to learn both broadly and deeply about the world’s major cultures, to research and prepare for all those additional articles, books, projects, presentations, and classes that EWP aims to deliver over the next 25 years or so. 🙂

Enter 2020 — and this global health crisis likely to result in borders that are far less open, and a new way of being, and of governance, that limits freedom of movement.

I have so much more travel planned. Many more cultures to explore, to learn — both new to me, and all those that I want to know more deeply. To contribute to our collective intercultural understanding — to our global community, to our humanity.

But perhaps the Cosmos is saying, to me, to each of us: “Quiet now. Stop moving. Stay, listen, contemplate, reflect. And: share.”

May we all get through this as best we can. May we not close our doors to one another — at international, national, local levels. May we heal from this trauma, move away from our current suspicions and fear of others — and may we begin, then, to remember: we are a global community. We are humanity.

May it be so.

~Dr Anne

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Nepal

 

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Nepal. Land of fantasy, ancient traditions, graceful religion — and 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest point on Earth. Land also of poverty, hardship, and natural disaster. Sandwiched between India and China — notably, Tibet, its two greatest influences, the society is multi-ethnic — with a culture uniquely its own. A land inhabited by humans for 55,000 years, its first significant cultural influence was Tibetan-Burmese, who migrated to the region 4 millennia ago. Modern Nepal began as such in the 18th century under a Gurkha king, and the legendary soldiers have had their own role in the culture of this country. Democracy began to replace monarchy by 1940s but took hold only in 1991, while a battle for Communist governance instead morphed into a civil war from 1996 to 2006 — including a massacre of the royal family in 2001. The country became fully democratic in 2006, with a new constitution…and in the 2017 election, the Communist party won by a wide margin.

 

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In the 7th century B.C.E., a prince in Nepal’s southern region was born, who would later renounce his royal heritage and become the Gautama Buddha. While Buddhism plays a role in the Nepalese culture, Hinduism is the country’s primary religion with more than 81% adherence; Islam has also ruled the land on several occasions through history representing a third, though significantly lesser, cultural influence. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Nepal’s constitution, though nationalists protest against secularism and advocate for a return to theocracy. A majority of traditions and festivals in Nepal are Hindu in origin.

 

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Nepal has a young culture, with a median age of 26 for females and 22 for males, and only an estimated 4.4% over the age of 65 — with life expectancy, though steadily increasing, of 69 years. Infant mortality in rural areas is one factor, as access to healthcare is limited and poverty high, though overall the country’s rate has decreased significantly in the past 20+ years. Natural disasters have also contributed to the mortality rate. With at least 26 distinct caste / ethnic groups, the society is quite diverse; as well, Nepal has had a history of welcoming immigrants and refugees from neighboring countries.

 

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Nepalese are hard-working people, of necessity — and poverty remains an issue, while the caste system maintains an elite class. Income inequality is high, the top 10% owning more than 26 times the wealth of the 40% at the bottom — a likely factor in the recent overwhelming vote for the Communist party. The nation’s current development model is widely considered a failure as the income gap continues to widen at an alarming rate.

 

 

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One of the most intriguing Nepalese traditions is that of the kumari: a prepubescent girl who, selected by sacred process, serves for several years as a representative of the ‘living goddess’ or divine female energy (devi) as found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. She is completely sheltered in a temple for this purpose; her feet must never touch the ground, she is worshipped as an icon at several public religious festivals per year — and when she begins puberty, the next kumari is chosen to take her place. Some of the cited detriments to this tradition include the effects on the girl’s psyche, in rising to a position of exultation even by her parents — and then returning to normal life, often with difficulties in socialising with her peers; while parents and others may attend to her education during this time, she is outside of the school system for several years and often has difficulty returning. Until recently, former kumari were not permitted to marry, though this is changing.  Still, it is considered an enormous honour to be chosen.

 

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The culture of Nepal is the culture of storytelling, or so it is said — folktales and myths, gods and demons. The arts, from music and dance to visual and performance to literature and poetry, are all strongly represented in Nepalese culture — often connected to religious tradition, though, since mid-20th century, with a lively modern and secular art scene as well. Nepal is a country, like India which surrounds it on 3 sides, that explodes in colour — a riotous display that celebrates life and the natural beauty of Nepal. Protest art, with themes of social and political issues, is also well represented.

 

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Nepal is a traditionally patriarchal society in which men dominate nearly all aspects of society. With a 66% literacy rate overall, and a tradition of home-schooling with formal education only for the elite, Nepal’s girls have long been left behind. The status of women today is steadily improving since the 1990 constitution guarantees basic rights, though primarily in the few main cities and far less in rural areas. Rates of rape, domestic abuse, and sex trafficking are high, with insufficient legal protection. Improvements include laws that permit females to inherit, own property in their own names, divorce, seek legal abortion, and secure citizenship for her children under her own name / family registry. Every level of government has a 20% minimum quota for female participation, with parliamentary seats at a minimum 33%.

 

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The smaller villages, even in the suburban regions of the capital, Kathmandu, see a much more traditional lifestyle with distinct gender roles. Nepalese cultural values include tradition, as well as interdependence, companionship, hospitality and loyalty in this collectivist culture. Family ties and personal relationships, as in much of Asia, are the social, political, and commercial glue. Patience and tolerance, as well as trustworthiness and dependability, are also highly valued and supported by the religious influences.

 

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In Hofstede’s cultural schema, a comparison of Nepal to its two gigantic neighbors and strongest influences demonstrates that Nepal is more collectivist (70%) than India (52%) but less than China (80%). Further, Nepal scores at 65% for power distance (hierarchy), lower than either India (77%) or China (80%), and is equal to India for risk-taking (60%), with China slightly higher (70%). Overall, Nepal’s culture is modernising in these past 3 decades, though their civil war which only ended in 2006, and the major earthquake destruction of 2015 with only half of the reconstruction completed to date, have minimised this progress. These recent traumas, while accepted in a society well known for fatalism, nevertheless continue to represent post-trauma / post-conflict challenges for the Nepalese people.

~EWP

Tunisia

Tunisia — northernmost point in the African continent, part of the Mahgreb region, strong Mediterranean influences, home of ancient Carthage — and the only fully democratic sovereign state in the Arab world, initiator of “Arab Spring,” one of the top Arab nations for gender equality as constitutionally protected. Berber at its origins, Tunisia has been influenced by Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim caliphate, Ottoman, and French. Independent as of 1957, the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 ushered in unprecedented freedom — though not without a price.

Tunisia, at its foundation a pantheistic culture of the Berbers, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, enjoys a high degree of religious pluralism, even as its constitution declares Islam as the state religion — requiring that the president adhere to same. The constitution also protects religious freedom, and the country has a significant Christian minority (primarily Catholic) — while Judaism represents its 3rd-largest religious community. The culture itself is secular, with strong separation of religion from sociopolitical life. Sharia law does not dictate Tunisia’s legislative or judicial system, there are no official dress codes, and Tunisians generally deem it impolite to enquire regarding another’s religious affiliation.

Tunisia is well represented in the arts, with a focus on beauty — in visual art, architecture — and an emphasis on literature in both Arabic and French — that identifies the nation with both its Arab and European influences. Reflecting its 3,000 year old history as well as its multi-ethnic quality as a crossroads of civilisations, the art, literature, and music of Tunisia reflects cultural pluralism — yet has a characteristic all its own. Independence saw a resurgence of contemporary arts; the artistic community both affected and was affected by the 2011 the revolution, in an unprecedented freedom of expression and renewed vigour in Tunisia’s art scene. The Bardo, a national museum in Tunisia, has called this renewal “the awakening of a nation.”

Tunisian traditions can still be found in open-air markets, or souq, of any medina, or traditional quarter, of the capital and other cities as well as small towns and villages. The winding alleys and inevitable mosque of the medina, typically enclosed by walls of an earlier time, denote a slow pace and simple living — while the souk connotes importance of relationships, art of communication, and a commerce focused more on people and less on commodity. Seasonal, episodic, and daily markets abound, and while Tunisians also enjoy a high standard of living with all modern conveniences, these markets remain containers of culture.

Sidi Bou Said, a resort town just north of the capital city, well known to artists both Tunisian and foreign for its stunning beauty and dramatic seaside cliff landscape, provides architectural confirmation of early Greek and recent Ottoman influences — and Tunisia’s firm place in Mediterranean culture. The notable colour scheme was introduced in the early 20th century by French painter and musicologist Baron Roldolphe d’Erlanger, who built a palatial residence in Sidi Bou Said; blue doors and windows, however, are a longstanding tradition among various Mediterranean cultures — as blue was thought to keep evil at bay.

The ancient empire of Carthage (814-146 BCE), its capital located in the area between Tunis and Sidi Bou Said, was founded by Queen Dido of Phoenicia with Goddess Tanit as its patron; gaining independence in 650 BCE, it became one of the ancient world’s most important manufacturing and trading hubs — and was always warring with the Greeks in Sicily, and the Romans who eventually overcame Carthage. The Muslim caliphate eventually conquered Carthage in 698 CE — and razed and rebuilt it, rather than see it return to Byzantine control. The enormous significance of Carthage remains woven into the tapestry that is Tunisian culture today.

The ‘new Tunisia’ that emerged from its 2011 revolution, widely considered the only true success story of the ‘Arab Spring’ with its political and social reforms as outlined in a new 2014 democratic constitution to include elevation of women’s status and human rights overall, has come with a price. In 2015, a large-scale terrorist attack took place at the Sousse beach resort and the Bardo Museum in Tunis, killing 60 people; 2018 saw a suicide bomber in Tunis, and again last year, bombings occurred in Tunis and the president was rushed to hospital in a ‘health crisis’. Just last month, 3 terrorist camps were discovered in the mountains. UN Human Rights Committee has questioned the government’s sustained use of “state of emergency” status, however, now 5 years on, with questions of human rights violations as a result. The attacks all appear sociopolitically motivated, in protest against Tunisia’s ongoing quest for democratic reform. — and indeed, a new government has just been installed after 4 months of post-election crisis that has thrown this neo-democracy into turmoil.

Tunisia’s human rights record is still mixed, but the status of women — a common marker of same, as women generally represent half or more of a population — has greatly improved since the country regained its independence, and again since the 2011 revolution and new democratic constitution which emphasises gender equality. Tunisian women gained the right to vote before their Swiss counterparts, and represent nearly half of all local government positions; they have had equal labour laws since 1966, and constitute 67% of university graduates. Equal citizenship, divorce rights, and inheritance laws have all been instituted, though not without controversy. More reforms are needed, especially in areas related to labour, such as mandatory maternity leave and childcare facilities, transparency in hiring and pay schemes, and increased access to credit. Women’s unemployment is at 22% compared to 12% for men, their earnings 15% less, and they hold senior positions in only 16% of private and 11% of public companies — but even still, Tunisia has greater gender equality overall than a majority of its MENA counterparts.

~EWP