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How can we best respond to the ethical demands of Gender-Based Violence translation?

Dr Charlotte Bosseaux talks to us about her new, AHRC-funded, practice-based research project.

Exacerbated by factors such as the social effects of COVID-19 and the refugee crisis in Europe, United Nations figures indicate that one in three women will experience Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in their lifetime.

A panel event at a conference
Dr Charlotte Bosseaux (l) speaking to Indian writer and activist Meena Kandasamy (r) at the third Whose Voice is it Anyway symposium. Image © Hui Yao.

Dr Charlotte Bosseaux has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to consider the ways in which the voices of GBV survivors are translated for a practice-based, multilingual documentary underpinned by new research into the ethics of translation.

The project’s primary goals are to establish which translation method - for example subtitling or voice-over - is the most ethical when translating audiovisual personal narratives, and to provide good practice guidelines for translators, translation companies, filmmakers and charities, including on how to work together effectively.

We asked Charlotte why the research is so important, what it will involve, and how students can engage with it.

Supporting survivors and the professionals who help them

“Beyond the UN statistics” reflects Charlotte “there are human beings, survivors, whose stories I want to explore.”

“I’m focusing on testimonies told by survivors because I’m interested in the ethical role played by translation when transmitting their experience, and in the way translators cope with working with challenging sensitive material.”

“The common perception of translation - as an invisible process, an afterthought, something done after an original text has been produced - has moral or ethical consequences, especially considering the often precarious employment status of language professionals. The emotional labour attached to translation remains largely unacknowledged in professional settings and academia”.

“In reality, you have situations like interpreters being called on rape cases, given no background information and expected to act as neutral conduits. Such situations put pressure on both service providers and service users, and it’s vital we make sure that a survivor's vulnerability is not propagated in translation, and also that language professionals are provided with the emotional support they need.”

An iterative and collaborative process

Charlotte’s 18-month project will see her work collaboratively with Saheliya, a Scottish-based charity supporting survivors, the filmmaker Ling Lee, and language professionals recruited via the specialist company Screen Language, a number of whom will be surveyed about how they feel about their work.

Crucially, with the help of Saheliya, she will also work with survivors to understand their expectations before filming starts, to incorporate their perspectives into the film-making process, and to make sure the filming and translation processes are undertaken ethically.

The documentary will focus on the stories of survivors and the role translation has played when sharing these stories. It will be multilingual; survivors will speak their mother tongue (including Arabic and Urdu) and translation will be carried out as soon as filming starts.

Explaining the role of audiences in the project, Charlotte says “As documentaries are either subtitled or voiced-over, two versions of the film will be created and shown to audiences to ask for feedback on which technique(s) they feel do the most justice to the survivors' voices, before a final version is produced taking the feedback on board”.

How students can get involved

Students interested in this area of research will be able to get involved in an event Charlotte is organising around a year into the project, following the format of her series 'Whose Voice is it Anyway?'.

The focus will be on how to respond to the ethical demands of translation, and three speakers will talk about this from different angles: literary translation; interpreting; and audiovisual translation.

There will also be a round table discussion with practitioners - including translators, interpreters and filmmakers - to discuss implications in practice.

Summing up, Charlotte says “Ultimately, with this project, I want to make sure that the voices of survivors are ethically translated and that we also listen to the voices of the professionals who make translation possible.”

Are you interested in Translation Studies?

The University of Edinburgh is an official Higher Education (HE) Language Partner of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and an official member of the SDL University Partner Program. With a wide range of languages offered, our one-year taught Masters programme will enhance your practical skills in, and theoretical understanding of, translation as an activity. We also offer one of the most flexible PhD programmes in Translation Studies in the UK, enabling you to enhance your translation practice while gaining an intellectual and philosophical perspective on the activity of translation, developing you as a self-reflective and theoretically-minded researcher or​ translator. 

Find out more about Translation Studies at Edinburgh

Related links

Whose Voice is it Anyway?