Why Translation Matters: Promoting Access, Inclusion, and Equality

Posted by on Jan 28, 2022
Countries where Our History of Patriarchy is now translated into an official language

“What’s going on here?”

This question animates Understanding our History of Patriarchy: What’s Faith Got to do with it?, a short animated video produced by the Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom in 2019 that succinctly explains the ancient origin and systemic nature of patriarchy, as seen through the eyes of the “Girl Child” — one who represents girl children everywhere. This simple question gets at the heart of understanding how patriarchy operates globally, across countries and cultures.

The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom is a joint project of the Imago Dei Fund and the Institute for Faith and Gender Empowerment. It launched in 2018 with a mission to bring a contemplative and historic awareness to the intersection of faith and gender inequality and help people “put faith to work through love” to transform the deep roots under global patriarchy. 

Girls are born into a world with traditions and practices that groom them to be second-class citizens and make them vulnerable to myriad forms of normalized devaluation, abuse, neglect, and injustice. In the video, the Girl Child speaks with a grandmotherly wise woman who honors her natural curiosity and her presumption of equality, and encourages her to ask questions about the unfair and inhumane realities that persist all around her — realities that many wrongly take for granted as norms sanctioned by God. The original English version of the video has been viewed over 25,000 times on YouTube and Facebook.  

The video looks deceptively simple as its production involved a team of professionals including a number of international experts in gender equality, faith, gender-based violence, and community development. “The Girl Child video” has been translated into Kiswahili, French, Hausa, and Portuguese, with a Burmese version in the works and possibly one in Oromo. We are overjoyed that girls (and anyone who cares about girls) in countries across Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe can hear the Girl Child speaking in their own language, shedding light on how and why the patriarchal traditions and norms that persist all around them came to be, and helping them understand that things don’t have to be this way. 

Understanding our History of Patriarchy thumbnail image, in Hausa

The How is as Important as the Why

Imago Dei Fund and The Girl Child Long Walk project work at the intersection of faith, gender equality, and community-led development. Our team seeks to support community-led efforts in a way that helps to fill gaps in community needs and avoids duplication. We developed the video as a tool to support our international network and advance gender equality work around the world. We also engage in extensive outreach to partners, as it is never a good idea to “just build it” and assume that “they will come.” Hired in 2020 as the Project Director, I was convinced that ideas would percolate from community leaders once they saw the video. They did.

“I have been inundated by emails from managers from our various regions asking for translations of the Girl Child video. Could we work with the Girl Child on these translations?” 

This question came from Prabu Deepan, who now heads programs in the Asia Region for Tearfund, a Christian charity that partners with churches around the world to work on disaster relief and to support those living in poverty. Thus began our collaboration with Tearfund on translating the videos into French (for francophone Africa), Hausa (for Nigeria), and Burmese (for Myanmar). Sabine Nkusi, Tearfund’s Gender and Protection Unit Lead, worked with their country teams and me on production with an emphasis on creating locally-relevant and  thoughtful cultural adaptations.

Pamela Shao, then a Senior Director of UNICEF Tanzania, was mentoring a group of teenage mothers trying to get their lives back on track; until 2021, government policy prohibited teenage mothers from attending school, which put them at risk of a life of poverty and dependency. When she showed the Girl Child video to them, translating it into Kiswahili so they could understand it, they started questioning their life’s status quo for the first time. “Why am I the only one doing household chores? Why is my father saying that he will pay for my brother’s schooling and not mine?” But the video was only accessible because Pamela could translate it for them.

“I asked [Rehema], why do you think the video should be in Kiswahili?” Pamela wrote in a blog post about the impact of the video on the girls with whom she worked. “She said the story of the Girl Child is not only very similar to hers, but she is seeing her 9-year-old sister living it as well. Her parents, relatives, teachers, even the village elders think this is okay and the way things just are. If no one is able to speak to them, then her sister’s fate will be the same as hers. If only the Girl Child spoke in Kiswahili for her parents to hear… her pastor to hear… her teachers and village leaders to hear.”

Pamela translated the Girl Child video script in Kiswahili and worked with a local technician to produce it.

Lígia Conti, an English teacher and a certified translator living in Sao Paulo, Brazil googled the word “patriarchy,” found the Girl Child Project, watched the video, and approached us about translating it into Portuguese. Once we approved her application, she translated the script and ran it by friends in Mozambique and Portugal to ensure that it was accessible to a broad range of Portuguese speakers. 

These simple requests speak not only to the global systemic problem of patriarchy, but also to the essential need for programs in the Global South to be designed in the original language of the communities they serve.

All of the video translations can be found on The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom Facebook page

Our Process

We translated the Girl Child video because community leaders “asked us” to do it and articulated a compelling need for it. We responded to clear community needs and made sure that community stakeholders who understood the nuances of the culture took the lead on the translations. I am a trilingual community development specialist working on her fourth language and have experience with a wide variety of Global North and Global South cultures and contexts. I know from experience that translation doesn’t necessarily mean access and inclusion if the translator doesn’t take the time to use terms that are understood, and/or concepts that are clear to all speakers of that language. Oromo has 11 different dialects and translation requires an integrative process. Bastardized French versions of Haitian Creole can be inaccessible to Creole speakers who don’t speak French. Nuances matter in translation.

Since the advent of the pandemic and the international expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s brutal murder, the world has gone through a much needed reckoning that has exposed the ever-present systemic nature of racism and inequality. Global South activists who used to be stigmatized for addressing these issues were finally freer to do it. The terms “anti-racism,” “decolonization,” and “multiculturalism” have become integrated in our daily social change jargon and conversations.  

However, studies have revealed that talk of public commitments hasn’t been followed up with much action. The reality is that although only around five percent of the world speaks English at home, about 50 percent of the internet is in English. Global forums and conferences are still English dominated and international agencies intervening in Global South contexts continue to function in English as opposed to the local languages. Ground Truth Solutions, an organization whose mission is to ensure that people affected by crisis have a say in humanitarian action, from individual projects to global humanitarian reform, found through their surveys that communities often prefer to communicate with service providers via face-to-face meetings but are thwarted by language barriers, as agencies often don’t provide opportunities for dialogue, nor do they support communities’ requests for interpreters. 

Translation, thoughtfully executed, provides people with access to more data, training, and education, as well as the possibility for more equitable partnerships and the ability to make choices for their future. If we, as a world, really want to address inequality and injustice, we need to integrate culturally appropriate translation as a best practice and a tool for decolonization and inclusion.

Ways to watch Understanding our History of Patriarchy:

The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom website

Would translation and cultural adaptation of Understanding Our History of Patriarchy support gender equality in your community? Are you able to play a role in creating a translated version of the video? If so, please complete this form — we would love to hear from you!