The 21st of February marks International Mother Language Day, as declared by UNESCO in 1999, after the initiative of Bangladesh to ensure the recognition of the Bangla language.
UNESCO highlights the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies and the need to foster tolerance and respect for other cultures. Similarly, as stipulated in UN resolution 56/262 of 2002, the focus
of this day is to promote linguistic diversity and ensure the preservation and protection of all languages and cultures globally.
The theme of this year is : “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society”, which is particularly relevant as the maintenance of linguistic diversity is being threatened considering that over 40% of the world's population do not have access to education in a language they speak or understand (UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report). Moreover, according to UNESCO, at least 43% of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered.
Culture inequality and marginalization are potential negative consequences of imposing a dominant language through a school system, without consideration of other local languages in education policies. Hence, the inclusion of indigenous languages in education directly impacts the learning achievement of children and contributes to social cohesion and peace.
The Geneva Institute for Human Rights uses this day as an opportunity to shed light on the hundreds of local languages in Middle Eastern countries that have not been codified and have been excluded from educational systems due to monolithic linguistic policies in favor of the Arabic language.
Within that context, the Institute highlights that the Mother Tongue is a universal right and the preservation and protection of minority languages is closely linked to human rights, particularly the right to education. Moreover, article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) enshrines the right to freedom of opinion and expression while similarly UNESCO (2017) states that “Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.”
On this day, the Institute appeals to governments, national and international organizations to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism and intensify efforts to ensure the absence of inequalities in education. The preservation of languages plays an important role in development, strengthening cooperation and ensures the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal’s focus on leaving no one behind.