Many times we stay within the boundaries of what – and with whom – we are comfortable. Culture, race, class, sexual preference, religion. The language we speak is part of that familiarity. It frames and reflects our lives. Perhaps we avoid going to spaces where we can't speak the language because we don't feel safe.
English is the language emphasised for knowledge production. It dominates on the internet. If you don't know English, your ideas can be marginalised, your voice can go unheard. If you are a woman who doesn't speak English, the silence is palpable. It's hard to feel safe to speak up when the language is not your own. Yet, non-English speakers go out of their way to translate their messages into English to ensure English-speakers' accessibility. Language tools on the internet have become increasingly sophisticated to facilitate this.
Given the plethora of information available in English, how often are English-speakers looking beyond their own language? How much do they avail of these tools to know how women are organising in India, Brasil or Lebanon? Many times assumptions are made about what does and doesn't happen in other cultures – because it wasn't being talked about in one's own language, or with the same terms.
Maybe we fall into a jargon that may only be understood by those with whom we associate – ie, “engender policy”, acronyms like VAW, or the use of technical terms as if everyone should know what we are talking about. Using clear, shared language helps build communication and understanding and leads to networking.
Today's action invites you to take advantage of translation tools on the internet to learn about activism against violence in cultures and languages different than our own, networking to end violence.
1. Discover women's websites in other countries and languages.
- Go to http://translate.google.com to explore Google's online translation services to and from multiple languages, using multiple character sets. The page has different tools. For example, at the “Text and Web” tab you can cut and paste text you want to translate (in up to 35 languages), or insert a URL to translate an entire web page.
- Go to the “Translated search” tab and insert a word or phrase like feminist or “violence against women” (Note, use quotes if you want to search for a specific phrase, rather than the series of words.) Select your language and the language of the web pages you want to search.
For example, you speak Spanish and you want to search for sexual harrassment in Hindi in Hindi websites. Google will first translate “hostigamiento sexual” into Hindi, search for that term, and give you a dual disply of the original Hindi website results alongside the immediate Spanish translation of those websites. If you select one of the website results, Google will translate the entire page into Spanish immediately.
- Some words to get you started: feminist, sexual and reproductive rights, abortion, “sexual harassment”, “violence against women”, tomboy
- You will find that the translation is not necessarily perfect, but may give you enough information to find out about the key VAW concerns in that region, different slogans or creative campaigning.
- Try using the “Text and web” tab to translate a thoughtful comment to leave on that site to demonstrate your solidarity and concern with their issues. Leave a link to your own site or blog, and to the Take Back the Tech site (and this day's action).
- Share what you learned and the sites that you visited in your blog, or as comments to this page. You could also try tagging them in a social bookmarking site such as Del.icio.us.
2. Think about accessibility
- Perhaps you will see a lot of pictures or text that goes untranslated. This could be because Google won't translate proper names or acronyms, and may get jargon wrong. Access to information depends on the languages in which information is available.
- You may also note that Google cannot translate anything that is not text – ie an image without proper labelling or coding. What you can read also gives a small idea of what someone who is visually-impaired can understand from the site. People who have visual disabilities may use screen-reading software to translate text into audio, but won't know what an image is unless it is described. Although there is increasing insistence on accessibility for all, many web pages cannot be understood by women with disabilities because of improper coding.
- If you have a blog or a website, or if your organisation is trying to get the word out on violence against women, taking accessibility into account is vital. For more resources on accessibility, visit the Web Accessibility Initiative.
3. Help make Google translator gender-aware
You'll find that Google translates some languages better than others. If you speak more than one language, verify for yourself the quality of the translation and make suggestions to improve it. If you find a news story that in Spanish is talking about “víctimas de violencia” (“victims of violence”), suggest “survivors” as a more appropriate translation than “victims” in this context. Or suggest sexual harrassment for “pirópos” instead of catcalls.
4. Learn new terms and gain more knowledge
- Common terms or slang for forms of violence in different cultures can reveal the extent of VAW in a society, and perhaps how easily it is dismissed. Try searching for “Eve teasing” or “pirópos”.
- Frequently many words vital for women's right and freedom of expression are censored or filtered in different countries. It might be hard for a woman in Iran searching for the term “lesbian” in Arabic to find results. Creative searching strategies, using slang terms known in the lesbian community, may provide many more networking opportunities.
- Please leave us a comment with the terms you find out and it's definition/translation, so that we can add it to our glossary and make TakeBackTheTech website more accessible to all people from different backgrounds, generations and levels of familiarity about the issues facing women around the world. Not everyone knows what does VAW stand for? FGM? twitter? blog?
Dip into a language different from your own and broaden your networking to end violence.