Translators without Borders (TWB), in collaboration with Oxfam International and CARE International, is launching new gender-focused language guidance for the Rohingya refugee crisis.

This language support, which is provided in the TWB Glossary for Bangladesh app, gives refugees, aid workers, and interpreters a well-researched tool to communicate more effectively with Rohingya women.

The updated glossary includes over 200 terms related to critical topics such as gender-based violence (GBV), family planning, and women's health. The glossary provides text and audio translations for those terms in five languages — Rohingya, Bangla, Burmese, Chittagonian, and English.

The app can be accessed on a computer, tablet, Android, or iOS device and is available both on- and offline, making it useful in the camps. With support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and the Department for International Development (DFID), the three organizations worked together to identify the list of gender-focused terms needed to communicate effectively with the Rohingya community.

Rohingya women

TWB then conducted focus groups with Rohingya men and women, including refugees who had recently arrived and those who have lived in the camps for years. In the focus groups, TWB and the community agreed upon the best terms in each language to communicate specific gender-focused concepts.

There are many challenges associated with communicating with Rohingya women specifically. In response to a conservative culture, Rohingya women have developed a 'sociolect' in which the men of their community do not understand certain words or pronunciations.

Rohingya women use many euphemisms when discussing topics that are perceived to be sensitive or taboo, such as rape and menstruation. Concepts like sex, gender, intercourse, empowerment, and puberty can all be sources of linguistic confusion.

Furthermore, many Rohingya women are illiterate, making language support for interpreters and community health and field workers of critical importance. Oxfam research has found that Rohingya women have been at greater risk of abuse and health problems than men.

It is crucial for humanitarians to understand and respect the words Rohingya women use to describe their experiences. The terms will help Rohingya women access services and understand their rights, and will support aid workers and interpreters as they communicate with the community, guiding them in speaking about sensitive issues.

"The humanitarian community needs to address the specific needs of women in this crisis," commented Aimee Ansari, TWB's executive director. "We can only meet Rohingya women's needs if we understand their language."