On 8 March, we join the world in celebrating International Women’s Day 2021. We’re interviewing Andreia Frazão, a translator whose tremendous efforts contribute to improving the lives of women, men, and children across the world. This year, the theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We’re celebrating the efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through language.
Women are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, as health workers, scientists, doctors, and caregivers. They’re also translators, linguists, and humanitarians ensuring communications about the virus are clear, accurate, and effective; something that is too often overlooked. Studies by TWB in Nigeria and Bangladesh found that women are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to information they can understand, as a result of unequal opportunities, less education, and lower literacy levels.
Linguists shape more equal futures by providing vital information, in a language and format people understand. This can equip women with the information they need to make important decisions about their lives. By putting women’s needs at the center of communications efforts, humanitarians can be more effective, helping women achieve equal rights and opportunities. Translators without Borders (TWB) translators like Andreia are making that happen.
- Based in Coimbra, Portugal
- Passionate about women’s rights
- Joined TWB in March 2020 to help respond to COVID-19
- Donated 385,000 words in English to Portuguese
- Supported 40 nonprofit organizations with her work
What is your biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB?
When the pandemic broke out here in Portugal, I wanted to help. Of course, when you are faced with a public health crisis, your instinct tells you only a doctor or a scientist can have an important social role. But the more I knew about COVID-19, the more I realized it was not just a worldwide health crisis – it was a worldwide information crisis. And TWB presented me with an opportunity to take action.
Another key motivation is the amazing TWB community. The community forum is where the TWB volunteers and the TWB team come together to make announcements and ask questions about projects, procedures, and the Kató translation platform, but it is so much more than that. It is a place full of enthusiasm and mutual help. It was where my attachment to TWB sprang from.
I was fascinated by everyone’s commitment to TWB’s work – regardless of age, gender, country, religion, and work situation. Even members of the TWB staff volunteer with TWB. And I noticed volunteers continued to work on their tasks, even through difficult circumstances. It feels wonderful to be part of this worldwide community, which takes on the mission of breaking down the world’s language barriers, especially during these difficult times.
Tell us about a project you have worked on this year.
Education has been disrupted by the pandemic, for people all over the world. I translated INEE’s COVID-19 Advocacy Brief – Learning Must Go On to support safe, inclusive learning for the most marginalized people, including those already living in crisis and conflict contexts. Young girls in particular are further affected by forced marriages, and risk of early pregnancy, and domestic and sexual violence. I wanted to be involved in addressing these issues. So I completed a project with Missing Children Europe in which I transcribed focus group discussions aiming to understand why young girls had run away from home. I remember one of the girls in particular. She had run away from a terrible home environment and as a consequence missed out on her education. These children can be helped, first by being listened to, and it’s important that communication happens in the language they are most comfortable with.
When it comes to translating information around the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be accurate, and make sure life-saving messages are effectively conveyed. Translating and interpreting is not just about converting words from one language into another. It is about communication. In sensitive situations such as during a crisis where anxiety, uncertainty and fear are prevalent, translators also bring interpersonal skills to the table. Being more sensitive to emotional cues, knowing if someone is uncomfortable or having a hard time understanding something, and imbuing trust are key.
What’s life like as a TWB translator?
It gave me a sense of purpose right from the start, which has helped me stay positive throughout the COVID-19 crisis. During a lockdown, it is easy to be affected by anxiety or insomnia. Being a TWB volunteer gave me structure, and project deadlines helped me create a meaningful routine.
It also made me more confident, thanks to the positive input I received from other volunteers. I remember once, a fellow TWB translator left me a feedback note saying my work was one of the best translations they had seen in the translation platform. It made my day. I also feel that the project managers trust my work, as they often contact me to work on full, sometimes urgent projects. That is very encouraging. Thanks to TWB I found motivation to hone dormant language skills and put them to good use.
Finally, in TWB, I met several people with whom I share a common set of values and a common outlook on life, and who have become my friends.
Which women do you look up to and why?
Brave Malala Yousafzai is the perfect symbol for all the women I look up to. I deeply admire her for her unwavering fight for girls’ right to education, but that is far from the only reason. I also admire her for her genuine honesty and kindness, her irresistible charisma, and her jovial outlook on life. She turned hate into love and ignorance into hope.
Some of Andreia’s favorite women-focused groups include:
- Malala Fund, which strives to bring about a world where every girl’s right to education is fulfilled.
- Girls not Brides, a global partnership working to put an end to child marriage.
- The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, an international organization aiming to end the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls.
How can humanitarian translation help women be more included?
Humanitarians play a key role in raising awareness and fighting gender-based violence and stigma. Humanitarian work is also vital to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (PSEAH). Translators amplify these efforts by translating guidance, research, advocacy messages and informative materials intended for the public. They also make sure vital information is in the right language for affected people.
A great introduction to the topic is the TED Talk by TWB’s wonderful CEO, Aimee Ansari, “How to change the world through language whilst sitting on your sofa.” She opens with a heartbreaking story. In a desperate attempt to save her starving child, a mother carried her for hours, the only nutritional information available to her written in a language she could neither speak nor read.
Girls and women are often among the most vulnerable in any group, and this story is a key example of that. It also shows why TWB’s work is so important – by providing organizations and people with the information they so need and want in their own language, we can help save lives.
Sign up as a translator here.
Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Andreia Frazão, Translator for TWB.