Multiculturalism is the living together of people from different cultures. A culture is defined as the way of life of a given people; it entails such aspects as their race, their religion and their groupings which forms their behaviors and their values.
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Multicultural societies must aim at addressing social, political, and economic needs of the minority thus ensuring that each and every member in that society has his needs catered for. Governing of societies with many ethnic and religious groups must be given the due priority in any multicultural society.
Countries all over the world have continued to experience ethnic based conflicts with the worst of these being the genocide experienced in Rwanda in 1994. Other countries such as Sudan (Darfur region), East Timor, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir have also had violent conflict for their failure to embrace multiculturalism.
The question is; what really causes all these conflicts? The answer lies not only in ensuring equal distribution of economic resources but also practicing good governance that is democratic (Panossian, Berman & Linscott 2007). Countries that have employed the above two principle rules have also realized the utmost importance of considering those issues that touch on ethnicity and nationalism, simply stated, identity.
Components of Multicultural Societies
Any multicultural society must strive to cater for the needs of the immigrant minority, people who are seeking asylum, its migrant workers, and the national minorities.
The immigrant minority
Immigrant minorities are those groups of people who have moved from their mother country where they have citizenship into another country in which they settle and establish permanent residence. This people bring along their languages and cultures that is very different from those found in the host country.
Asylum seekers and refugees are defined differently but the differences in their meaning are slimmer than thin. Asylum seekers refer to those whose application for asylum is pending and those who’s theirs has been refused. On the other side, refugees have had their status for asylum recognized, and includes people receiving humanitarian protection. It is evident that these groups are victims of forced migration and are in the process of seeking protection from persecution taking place back at their homes (Aspinall & Watters 2010 ).
Their identities are varied and sometimes are discriminated against because they have a different socio-economic orientation. The facts that refugees and asylum seekers are immigrants make them face certain problems. Like with the other special groups in a multicultural society, issues to do with health, education and even employment must be looked into.
Many societies continue to put forth harsh laws and regulation that address the issues of migration and the refugees. Asylum seekers continue to be associated with criminal behavior. They are often accused of contaminating the local culture. As a result of their plight and the lack of the information by service providers on whether these immigrants are eligible to healthcare services has caused many refugees to experience health related problems.
These neglected immigrants usually depend on the more expensive emergency and specialized care thus hurting them economically. Women usually experience poor care during their pregnancy period and these doesn’t improve on delivering. They also continue to experience mental problems as a result of the experience from their home country. Their siblings do not receive the best form of education and are more often than not neglected.
These are also important constituents of a multicultural society whose welfare must be catered for. Immigrant workers have temporary residence in the host country/society. Immigrant workers bring with them their beliefs and practices into the host society.
These are groups of people who are indigenous but have a different language and cultural beliefs from those of the other groups in that society. This minority group may however share with the other groups the major language of the society or incorporate in their language the national language. It has also been observed that these minority groups may also adopt aspects of culture from the neighboring country.
International human rights statutes demand that countries protect the ethnic and all the aspects of the culture of their national minority groups. This is to make sure that these groups enjoy equal rights with those of the majority although this is does not mean that any person belonging to minority group should enjoy special rights (Alfredsson and Ferrer 2004 ).
Canada ranks higher up among those countries in the world that have embraced the issue of multiculturalism. Canada has been in the forefront in advocating for a sound accommodation of the rights of its minority groups. It is a country where multiculturalism has been incorporated and has been found to function quite reasonably (Panossian, Berman & Linscott 2007). It has also been offering financial assistant to courses that endeavor to promote multiculturalism.
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Canada has fully embraced the spirit of tolerance and diversity. This move has seen Canada integrate the immigrants into its culture which has resulted into a greater participation of these immigrants into the life of the Canadians thus making them feel more at home. There have been challenges that face multiculturalism in Canada with those opposed to this move arguing that incorporation of people from diverse cultures is leading to the rise of slums and in the long run is causing divisiveness among the Canadians.
This, they say occur when there is an emphasis on the differences between the various groups instead of a stress on their common identity as citizens of Canada. The debate on the multiculturalism in Canada has been won in the past few years when evidence to support its importance in Canada emerged.
The History Of Multiculturalism In Canada
Canada is inherently a country formed by immigrants from the word go. Prior to its independence, the colony consisted of only three tribes (Makarenko 2010). These tribes were the aborigines, the French and the British but it is important to note that the aborigines are the natives, so to speak.
The later ethnic groups i.e. the French and the British too contained many other small ethnic groups amongst them, each with a different socio-economic and political orientation. In 1867, Canada was also a home to many German ethnic groups who brought with them their rich culture. Early 19th and 20th century saw surge in the number of immigrants who settled in Canada. Today, Canada is a home to more than one hundred groups of people with different cultural background.
Equity in Ethnic Policy
In the earlier years, discriminative policies had been enacted but the mid of the last century saw the eradication of these policies and the establishment of better ones that addressed the plight of the minority and the need for equality. 1963 experienced the rise of concern for different cultures including the Ukrainian culture in Canada and the passing of the immigrants act (May 1999).
However, the proudest period was during the 1970s when the officio multiculturalism was introduced. The multiculturalism embraced the aspect of the Canadian diverse cultures apart from the two dominant ones. This policy encouraged ethnic groups to maintain their culture and also ensured equity. The policy has continued to favor new immigrants during the late 20th century and in the 21st century.
Programs supporting cultural activities were initiated in the 70s and there existed, in the Canadian cabinet, a minister in charge of multiculturalism. There also existed an ethno-cultural council that foresaw the issue related to multiculturalism. Over the years, various other bodies have come into being that promotes multiculturalism e.g. the Canadian human rights commission, charter of rights and freedom, and also the Canadian multicultural act has been passed (Makarenko 2010).
Is multiculturalism working in Canada?
The answer is yes, multiculturalism is working best in Canada than in most other countries in the world. Canada’s socio-economic and political integration of the immigrants has provided a strong evidence for the success of multiculturalism in Canada than most other democracies. Research findings indicate that there has been a higher degree in mutual acceptance between the immigrants and the natives.
Canadians view the immigrants as part and parcel of their own identity in comparison to citizen of other democracies. To the Canadians, immigration is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. They do not link the immigrants with crime but in most cases they view multiculturalism proudly. A large number of immigrants indicate that they are proud to live in Canada and that they enjoy the freedom and democracy granted.
Political integration has seen to it that immigrants are easily made citizen and are likely to participate in all the democratic processes than in any other country. This should however not be taken to mean that Canada passport are that easy to get. What any other proof for this than the queer number of non Canadian born citizens in its parliament?
This number of office bearers of foreign origin in Canada is possibly the highest in the world, higher than that in the United States of America or even in Australia. In Canada, it has been observed that political parties readily recruit from the minorities than from the dominant majority, as candidates in elective posts and that there is no any form of discrimination against them by the voters.
In the field of academic excellence, the immigrants offspring’s do better than those in many other developed countries comparatively. They go ahead and even outperform those whose parents are native citizens.
Contrary to the arguments by opponents of multiculturalism, evidence that immigrants lead to the establishment of slums has not been documented . Immigrants are found living together but there are no signs that these people choose areas of low economic status. Their neighbors act as the bridge to economic freedom but not an imprisonment in ghetto life.
The other evidence of the positive multiculturalism in Canada is embedded in the almost complete absence of anti-Muslim attitude that yield division on religious and ethnic lines (Kymlicka 2010). Most Canadians embrace the spirit of brotherhood and in fact view the Muslims as very important contributors to the welfare of the Canadians. Muslims in Canada have also expressed a similar view and report that there is no hostility towards them from the co-citizens.
All the above evidences are a clear indication of the successes of multiculturalism in Canada. On the other hand, it has been argued that the high rate of success in Canada’s integration policy is contributed by other factors like in the view that Canada’s immigrants are comparatively more skilled in relation to those going into other countries. This is translated to mean that these immigrants are more easily incorporated in to the labor market when compared to those immigrating into other democracies.
The above assumption has generated a counteraction with surveys showing that the multiculturalism is operating in two levels in Canada; at individual and institutional levels.
The case of Australia
Australia is a culturally diverse country with close to 7 million immigrants since the end of the Second World War. More than forty percent of its people are either born outside Australia or one of their parents is an immigrant. The country is also home to people from over two hundred countries in the world with most married to spouses from a different culture.
Australia is also diverse religiously its people being Christian (69%), Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or belonging to Judaism. Until recently, there were no policies in Australia addressing the need for multiculturalism and the foreigners were required by the locals to shape up and assimilate in to their own culture.
This move changed in the 1960s when the government introduced the multicultural policies. The change was as a result of pressure generated by religious groups, academicians, students amongst other key players. Prior to the introduction of the multiculturalism policy, the white Australia policy was in force that advocated for the assimilation (García 2010).
The Multicultural Policy
The government of Australia is committed to diversity in the national multicultural policy. This policy has endeavored to promote its social harmony and in the process cater for its people’s welfare in terms of socio-economic, cultural, and political arenas.
Objectives of multicultural policy in Australia
The policy aims at preserving the culture of the original Australians, white Europeans who settled in Australia, other customs that have emerged in the recent years and the immigrants’ culture that they bring along.
The policy also foster respect and equity among the citizens and in so doing create peaceful coexistence.
It is the primary goal of this multicultural policy to ensure equal opportunity and participation of all Australians of diverse cultural backgrounds, in society and make sure that individual groups keep their culture and other beliefs. The Australian multicultural policy has ensured that people feel at home without making a sacrifice of their cultural and religious identity. To implement this policy, the government has initiated cultural and educational campaigns aimed at persuading the masses into acceptance.
Challenges facing the implementation of multicultural policy in Australia
Like in many other settler countries in the world trying to embrace the spirit of multiculturalism, Australia too has faced its challenges with the implementation.
Criticism of multiculturalism in Australia is based on the notion that the dominant British race may become contaminated, fear that the locals may lose their jobs to immigrants, and fear of rise of sectarian violence. Other fears are based on the view that the standards of living may be lowered (Hawthorne 1996).
Successes of multiculturalism
Multiculturalism has been successful in Australia in general term. There has been an increased constitutional right and cultural enrichment but generally most of the principles of multiculturalism have not been realized and remain only defined (Galligan & Roberts 2007 ).
In this context, there has not been full participation of everyone in the democratic processes, decision making remains an enclave of those in power, education and social services to the immigrants are largely ignored while federalism still lingers on many years after its demise.
Reasons for the Success in multiculturalism in Australia
Despite these challenges, the policy has to a large extent been doing well though not as successful as it is in Canada. The reason behind the implementation has been credited to the egalitarianism of the Australian people, the strong support rendered by successive regimes, organizations such as the Australian institute of multicultural affairs amongst others. The upsurge of globalization, mass movement and the growth in I.C.T. has been pivotal in the transformation of the ideas about nations (Kerkyasharian 1998).
Improvements in transport and the transformation in the field of communication has led to the rise of globalization which has in turn given rise to multicultural societies. Challenges continue to face these multiethnic democracies. Unless these states embrace the representation of the minorities in terms of their languages, their culture and their religion, then they will continue to experience challenges in governance and far reaching effects may be felt like in the case of Iraq.
Canada is one of those few countries where multicultural policies have been tested and proved successful and in fact any country that endeavors to practice multiculturalism must borrow from Canada. Canada has been able to overcome under-representation of the minority.
Australia is also struggling with the implementation of the policy many years after its enactment although it has recorded a certain level of success. It is therefore my view that the best multicultural society to envisage is that found in Canada.
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