The answer to this question is never simple. It sparks questions as to what constitutes a global citizen, as we know that we cannot be citizens of the world in the same way that we possess national, and by default, for a lot of us, EU citizenship. However, we live in an ever increasingly interconnected and interdependent world which must have implications of some kind.
From the minute we wake up till the moment we sleep again, we are connecting with the world around us. Check the labels on your clothes, usually people represent at least two continents in their clothing alone. As we eat throughout the day, our food represents a multitude of countries, if not the source of ingredients then through the inspiration for the recipes. Most of all, we are instantly connected with friends, family and shops via the internet throughout the day. However, this is the case in the western world. Arguably, we benefit from these connections far more than the woman who made your jumper in India or the man who harvested your favourite rice in the Philippines. So how can we make this connection more equal, what are our responsibilities to the people we are connected with?
Defining Global Citizenship
Many theorists claim that being a global citizen means you have a responsibility to your fellow human beings to ensure that human rights are protected and upheld all over the world. Although there is no concrete definition of global citizenship, I’ll outline some of the common elements which people talk about. Some people claim that it means recognising and making connections between your own life and your local surroundings, and the lives of people all over the world. This connection is often called a global community. In my own research I came across three different ways of connecting to global citizenship, the first is a personal connection to the global community, the second is a feeling of responsibility to act for global citizenship and the third is a belief in the positive capacity of the human race to make the world a better place. The most notable and widely referenced description of a global citizen was written by Oxfam and it outlines a global citizen as someone who:
- is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
- respects and values diversity
- has an understanding of how the world works
- is outraged by social injustice
- participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global
- is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place
- takes responsibility for their actions
Becoming a Global Citizen
These definitions explore different aspects of global citizenship, though they do not make clear what the practical implications are for someone who claims the title of global citizen. One way to explore these implications is to look at possible actions of a global citizen compared to a ‘regular’ citizen. The global citizen might strive to support small businesses and buy fair trade products when they can as opposed to shopping for convenience alone. Where a ‘regular’ citizen might complain about elements of the 6 o’ clock news, a global citizen might sign a petition and start a dialogue with friends and family to spread understanding and engagement.
However, these actions are hypothetical and circumstances always influence decisions. I am interested in starting a dialogue around the ethical considerations of global citizenship. I want to explore questions such as ‘Can anybody be exempt from the duties and responsibilities of a global citizen?’ and ‘Under what circumstances is someone denied the title?’. In answering these questions it is important to consider our fellow human beings, it is not realistic to expect everyone to make the same decisions regarding fair trade products or petitions. We must consider who it is practical or beneficial for to take up the torch of global citizenship, whether it is more realistic or necessary for people from more developed countries to pursue this role than for people from less developed countries.