Photo credit: UNRWA - Photo: 2015

Unveiling the Mystery of Global Citizenship

By Jaya Ramachandran | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis

BRUSSELS (IDN) – While mystery shrouds the concept of ‘global citizenship’ for wide sections of the general public, a growing number of civil society organisations, enlightened governments and the United Nations are undertaking concerted efforts to lift the veil of enigma.

“Global citizens can change the world,” proclaimed a group of non-governmental organisations during the European Development Days (EDD) in Brussels that hosts the European Commission, executive body of the 28-nation European Union (EU).

CONCORD Europe’s DEEEP project, initiated by the Development Awareness Raising and Education Forum and co-funded by the EU, joined hands with CIVICUS, Global Education Network (GENE), the North-South Centre and the European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) to stage a debate on global citizenship on June 4.

The event sought to drive home that in a globalised and interdependent world, the promotion of global citizenship is essential for citizens to understand that their individual and collective actions have a global impact – and call upon them to engage in positive actions for their communities and the planet.

Global citizenship can be promoted in several ways – such as education, policy changes, campaigns and global citizens’ movements – by civil society organisations (CSOs), governments, municipalities and international organisations. At its core are the universal values of justice, democratic participation, diversity, empathy and global solidarity.

“The Sustainable Development Goals are an opportunity to put global citizenship at the heart of the global development agenda and our joint construction for a peaceful, fair and sustainable world,” the organisers of debate said in a background paper.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be agreed at the UN summit in September in New York and replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

DEEEP pointed out that it has since 2014 been lobbying for global citizenship education to be at the heart of the SDGs education targets. The SDGs proposal, which is now on the table, mentions Global Citizenship Education in the target 4.7.

Understanding and implementing global citizenship education was the subject of yet another debate during the EDD, a flagship of the European Development Year. It was organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) together with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The two agencies with global expertise and experience, are striving to promote curricula and teaching practices that develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary to establish and maintain peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable societies that are the cornerstone of global citizenship.

Building on its 70-year experience in assisting countries to promote good quality education to all their citizens, UNESCO has been leading work on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) since the launch of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative  (GEFI) in September 2012 that made fostering global citizenship one of the education objectives.

UNESCO has developed pedagogical guidance on how to integrate GCED in both formal and non-formal educations systems at country level.


UNRWA has been providing basic primary education to Palestine refugees for 65 years with EU support and has been running a Human Rights Education Programme for almost 15 years, aimed at promoting non-violence, healthy communication skills, peaceful conflict resolution, human rights, tolerance and good citizenship through classroom-focussed tools.

The discussion event debated not only how global citizenship education should be defined but also the main challenges and opportunities associated with its implementation.

UNRWA Human Rights Education Programme Coordinator Caroline Ponterfract of UNESCO working joined Chris Castle of UNESCO and Ozlem Eskiocak in framing the debate based on UNESCO’s recent report on Global Citizenship Education: Preparing Learners for the challenges of the 21st century and UNRWA’s experience reaching human rights in the Near East.

At a separate event on June 5, Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl underlined Palestinians’ situation in a statement at the UNRWA 65th anniversary high-level conference: “We speak today of over 5 million registered Palestine refugees in the region. That equates to the population of Norway or Singapore,” he said.

Setting forth education for global citizenship, he pointed out that Palestine refugees today face “an existential crisis on many fronts”. In Palestine, they are approaching 50 years of occupation. Being a Palestine refuge in Gaza today, means being a victim of a blockade that affects every aspect of one’s life and being dependent on food aid while being educated and wishing to be self-sufficient, he added.

“We are sometimes told that UNRWA perpetuates the status of refugeehood. The reality is that a child of an Afghan refugee in Peshawar is a refugee even 35 years later. There is one big difference however; the day that an Afghan family decides to go home there is an independent country called Afghanistan to go to. This is not the case for Palestine refugees,” Krähenbühl said.

“Their isolation, exclusion and dispossession represent a time-bomb for the region, a denial of dignity and rights that must be addressed,” he added.

As Krähenbühl pointed out, reflecting on UNRWA that has turned 65 also means reviewing some of the outstanding achievements made over the decades with the support of hosts and donors and with the refugees themselves.

The UNRWA head contributed to understanding of the complicated situation, thus fostering global citizenship when he said that even the agency’s closest partners underestimate the fact that with their support, UNRWA has contributed to one of the most remarkable dynamics of human capital development in the Middle East.

“Our health and education standards remain among the highest in the region. 700 schools run by UNRWA with 22,000 education staff for 500,000 boys and girls . . . This is the equivalent of running the education services of the city of San Francisco but in areas experiencing war, occupation and blockade. 131 clinics run by UNRWA with 4,000 health staff for an annual average of 3 M (million) people served,” Krähenbühl said.

He added: “UNRWA has invested in developing capacities and opportunities for Palestine refugees, against all odds. It has created a human capital that many countries in the world would today envy the Palestinians for. While Palestinians envy many others for having an independent state of their own.”

Though only two discussion sessions during European Development Days focussed specifically on global citizenship, June 4-5 were packed with events that sought to promote a spirit of global citizenship. [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 June 2015]

Photo credit: UNRWA

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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