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Victories give CEDAW hope in improving women’s lives November 11, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in development assistance, NGOs, United Nations, women's issues.
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The UN is often derided as a slow and ineffective animal. However, women’s rights expert Shanthi Dairiam had a message to deliver her audience at the George Ignatieff Theatre on November 10th : all over the world, from the grassroots up, women have come forward and used the multilateral institution as a tool to pressure their governments. “Since 1945, the UN has become the unlikely grandmother of women’s rights,” she observed.

In 1993, the activist founded the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, an NGO based in Malaysia which monitors the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She was a CEDAW committee member from 2005-08.

Among the successes Dairiam cited was that of Nepal. In 2002, the passage of the 11th Amendment of the Civil Code there granted women the long-denied right to property, divorce rights, the right to abortion and greater punishments for polygamy and rape. Meanwhile, in 2008, Morocco officially lifted its reservations against the Convention, which it had ratified in 1993. Legislation in Morocco had been updated to become more progressive in 2003.

Individual suits against flawed legislation have also benefited from CEDAW committees’ Concluding Observations. In Japan, nine women working for Sumitomo applied for mediation, claiming a pay difference with male employees with the same educational backgrounds and years in employment. They had to resort to court action. The plaintiffs used CEDAW recommendations provided to them in 2003. CEDAW then examined the Japanese government report and eventually, the judge referred to CEDAW recommendations on prohibiting indirect discrimination. The plaintiffs won their case. In doing so, they and CEDAW created an international precedent.

Of course, not all victories are clear cut and as wide-ranging as the parties concerned would prefer. With 187 countries having ratified the Convention and having to be monitored on an ongoing basis, “it is well-nigh impossible to be rigorous about monitoring,” conceded Dairiam.  Ratifying countries must report every four years. Women’s groups come as delegations to present their findings and point out areas for improvement. “Non-governmental and civil society activism… is crucial to the domestic implementation of human rights,” the lecturer stated.

There are many barriers to implementation, one of which is the “cultural” defence, for practices ranging from female genital mutilation to polygamy: “Some governments argue it’s impossible to eliminate discrimination because of culture… (but) you can condemn it, if you can’t eliminate it. Condemnation is very important. It sets the tone for the rest of the work.”

Another barrier is access to equality. This is where Canada has failed in its own obligations and has done nothing since receiving CEDAW’s Concluding Observation, centring on access to social services as a way out of poverty, which disproportionately hits women. The same can be said about the issue of part-time work around the developed world: women occupy over 90 per cent of part-time positions, without benefits, sick leave or hope of promotion. Canada’s response to CEDAW critiques of its social services distribution was to point to its federal decentralization. This defense could not be used to explain the second area of concern CEDAW pointed out – the failure of the Canadian government to properly investigate the disappearance and murder of hundreds of aboriginal women.

Shanthi Dairiam spoke at the George Ignatieff Theatre to deliver the 14th Annual Dame Nita Barrow Lecture, presented by the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education with support from the International Development Research Centre.

Translators and interpreters help save lives. La traduction et l’interprétation au service de l’humanité. October 5, 2011

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada, cultural industries, Disaster aid, Disaster zones, Language industries, NGOs.
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Whether in disaster zones or aiding NGOs carry out their crucial tasks, linguists play a crucial role in ensuring communication flows freely for those in distress.

To highlight this lesser-known aspect of the business, Glendon College in Toronto invited two guest speakers in honour of International Translation Day on September 28: Henry Dotterer, founder of the online translation agency Pro-Z and board member of Translators Without Borders; and Lola Bendana, president of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Two Canadians have founded or helped direct organizations to do just that. Lori Thicke, a Torontonian working in Paris, founded Translators Without Borders in 1993 after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) approached her for a quote. She decided to provide the humanitarian work for free. As Henry Dotterer tells it, MSF answered they had a budget to pay the work. Thicke replied that the money could be used to provide more vaccine, which was the subject of the work to be translated.

Since that time, TWB has attracted 678 volunteers to its database. Translators are screened through a rigorous testing process before they gain admission. After that, it’s up to the humanitarian organizations and volunteers to find each other and agree on projects. Amongst the NGOs served are Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Enfants du monde and GoodPlanet. After the earthquake in Haïti, volunteers helped translate documents on how to manage clinics where amputations are performed; and how to treat shock and trauma. TWB supports about 40 active clients. Its next mission: to expand into Africa and help build the translation industry there, for local languages as well as better-known ones.

Meanwhile, Lola Bendana, the Toronto-based president of the IMIA, helps coordinate efforts to reach out to disaster victims worldwide. The IMIA is an advocacy organization founded in 1986, representing 70 languages, 2,000 members and 11 countries and dedicated to professionalizing medical interpretation. A Glendon College English-Spanish translation programme graduate, Bendana usually opposes the idea of translators and interpreters working for nothing. However, humanitarian work is a crucial exception. Through its Disaster Relief Interpreter Database, the IMIA puts volunteer medical interpreters in touch with NGOs and other organization working in natural catastrophy zones.

The initiative was born from the Haïti earthquake in January 2010. For seven weeks, the Comfort Hospital Ship ministered to patients; however, the first volunteers were non-professionals who did not have any in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, which proved problematic. As a result, the Red Cross approached the IMIA for help. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 provided another unfortunate opportunity to lend assistance, as Japanase IMIA representative Kazumi Takesako organized a group of volunteer interpreters and reached out to translators as well. The latter were needed to help with documents concerning nuclear problems at the Fukushima plant. Takesako had vowed to prevent tragedies such as the case of a mother in a previous earthquake who lost her baby

Interpretation can be wrenching for other reasons. Bendana is of Nicaraguan origin and was studying in Costa Rica when she was sent to the border to assist Nicaraguan refugees. Her professors had advised all student interpreters to explain to the refugees they should lay out the political reasons for their asylum claims. However, the refugees would say they had trouble feeding their children. They feared being killed if they told the truth: not being allowed to work and having parcels of land confiscated, Bendana said.


Que ce soit dans les zones de catastrophe ou en aidant les ONG à effectuer leurs tâches essentielles, les linguistes jouent un rôle indispensable au niveau de la libre communication entre les personnes en détresse et les organismes de sauvetage.

Afin de mieux faire connaître cet aspect de l’industrie, le Collège Glendon à Toronto a invité un conférencier et une conférencière à l’occasion de la Journée internationale de la traduction le 28 septembre : Henry Dotterer, fondateur de l’agence de traduction en ligne Pro-Z et membre du conseil de Traducteurs sans frontières; et Lola Bendana, présidente de l’association internationale des interprètes médicaux et médicales, la International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA).

Deux Canadiennes ont soit fondé, soit aidé à diriger des organismes à faire exactement cela. Lori Thicke est Torontoise basée à Paris et a lancé Traducteurs sans frontières en 1993 après que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) l’ait approchée pour qu’elle leur fasse un prix. Elle a décidé plutôt de fournir le travail humanitaire gratuitement. Comme le raconte Henry Dotterer, MSF a répondu qu’on avait le budget pour le travail. Thicke a répondu que l’argent pourrait servir à fournir davantage de vaccins, le sujet même du travail à traduire.

Depuis, TSF a attiré 678 bénévoles à sa base de données. On évalue des traducteurs à l’aide d’un rigoureux processus d’examen, après quoi il en revient aux organismes humanitaires et aux bénévoles de se retrouver et de s’accorder sur les projets. Les ONG qui profitent du service comprennent Oxfam, MSF, Zafèn, la fondation Fais-Un-Vœu, Enfants du monde et GoodPlanet.  Suite au tremblement de terre d’Haïti, des bénévoles ont aidé à traduire des documents sur la gestion des cliniques où on effectuait des amputations; et sur le traitement du traumatisme et du trauma. TSF appuie environ 40 clients actifs. Son prochain défi est d’offrir davantage de services en Afrique et d’aider à y bâtir l’industrie de la traduction, tant pour les langues locales que pour celles qui sont mieux connues.

De son côté, Lola Bendana, la présidente torontoise de l’IMIA, aide à coordonner les efforts effectués pour rejoindre les victimes de catastrophes partout dans le monde. L’IMIA est un organisme de revendication, fondé en 1986, voué à la professionnalisation de l’interprétation médicale. Il regroupe 2 000 membres de 11 pays parlant 70 langues. Diplômée du programme de traduction de l’anglais vers l’espagnol du Collège Glendon, Bendana s’oppose habituellement à l’idée du travail gratuit pour les traducteurs et interprètes. Cependant, le travail humanitaire est une exception fondamentale. Par le biais de sa base de données d’interprètes pour le secours des personnes sinistrées, l’IMIA permet aux interprètes médicaux et médicales bénévoles de communiquer avec les ONG et autres organismes oeuvrant en zone sinistrée.

L’initiative est née du séisme haïtien de janvier 2010. Pendant sept semaines, le navire hospitalier Comfort a soigné les sinistrés; cependant, les premiers bénévoles n’avaient pas de formation professionnelle et ne connaissaient pas la terminologie médicale, ce qui a occasionné des ennuis. Donc, la Croix-Rouge a approché l’IMIA pour demander de l’aide. Le séisme et tsunami au Japon en mars 2011 a fourni une autre malheureuse occasion de prêter secours : la représentante japonaise de l’IMIA, Kazumi Takesako, a organisé un groupe d’interprètes bénévoles et a également demandé l’aide des traducteurs. Ces derniers étaient nécessaires à la traduction de documents concernant les problèmes nucléaires à l’installation de Fukushima. Takesako avait juré d’empêcher les tragédies futures semblables à celles d’une mère qui avait perdu son enfant au cours d’un séisme antérieur, parce que les secouristes ne voyaient pas le bébé et ne comprenaient pas ce qu’elle disait pour les avertir.

Le métier d’interprète peut s’avérer déchirant pour d’autres raisons. Bendana est nicaraguayenne d’origine et faisait ses études au Costa Rica lorsqu’elle a été envoyée à la frontière pour venir en aide aux réfugiés du Nicaragua. Ses professeurs avaient avisé tous les interprètes aux études d’expliquer aux réfugiés qu’ils devaient donner des raisons politiques pour leur demandes d’asile. Cependant, les réfugiés disaient qu’ils éprouvaient des difficultés à nourrir leurs enfants. Ils craignaient se faire tuer s’ils disaient la vérité : soit qu’on ne leur permettait pas de travailler et qu’on leur confisquait leurs lopins de terre, a dit Bendana.