Project impacts can only be sustainable if they are fully appropriated by all stakeholders. Cultural sensitivity is essential to allow good appropriation. Cultural sensitivity consists of any approach taken to read the contexts in which we work and to integrate cultural dimensions into humanitarian programs. This includes the shared systems and meanings of each group, explaining how they function, feel, normalize and perceive.
Cultural aspects are integrated into all aspects of daily life, the crisis and the context. They are not something we can put aside in our programming. On the contrary, cultural sensitivity must be taken into account in all stages of our procedures.
For each project, various cultures meet and sometimes collide. It can be local cultures but also expatriate and humanitarian cultures or those linked to crises. It is important at first to be aware of this and also to be aware of the cultural complexity generated by aid and the possible positive and negative impacts of it on social and cultural fabric. It is also essential to distinguish the different cultural levels and determinants to build on local initiatives and knowledge. These can improve programs, make them more accessible and sustainable. This is particularly important in the case of protracted crises since humanitarian aid can have significant long-term negative impacts on local cultures and structures.
Being culturally sensitive does not mean that we have to fall into cultural romanticism or relativism and accept everything from local cultures. We must be aware of our own culture, its complexity and its influence in our interpretations of situations. Being sensitive to culture does not also mean trying to understand everything or simplifying everything about local cultures, but rather to establish a constructive and mutual dialogue between cultures by breaking with the supremacy of some over others.