“Let’s empower our language too!”

Nuria Felipe Soria is a communications specialist for UN Women. She was a member of the Spanish delegation at the Beijing Conference, carrying out functions involving communications and liaison with civil society organizations.

Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

As a communicator who works with words, today I want to talk about language as an instrument of change.

Nuria Felipe Soria
Photo courtesy of Nuria Felipe Soria

Twenty years after the Beijing Conference, I work in a United Nations institution dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. However, in 1995, those words were still taboo, at least in the official translations of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

At the parallel NGO forum held in Huairou, feminists from around the world were talking about empowerment, about gender equality and the diversity of women. At this time, the use of the word “empoderamiento” (empowerment) was less common in official language than it is today. In fact, it did not appear anywhere in the translation to the Spanish language of the Declaration and Platform for Action!

It was one of the few misgivings that remained when we returned home. So many achievements had been made in Beijing and yet, how could we have returned home with a text that did not include the word, “empoderamiento”? For this reason, the National Mechanism for Equality, the Instituto de la Mujer, for which I was working in 1995, decided to amend the situation by publishing a revised version of the Beijing Declaration and Platform. I had the satisfaction of coordinating that revision, which was widely distributed across Spanish society. In it, we used the term “gender” with the meaning it had acquired through feminist thought and research. We used concepts such as “parity” and, of course, “empowerment” rather than the limited “boosting the role of the woman” that appeared in the original text.

To this day, I also wonder why the Platform in English talks about the World Conference on Women in the plural, while the official version in the Spanish language talks about “the woman,” as if 51 per cent of the population had one identical face.

Without a doubt, the transformative power of language goes much further. We communicators have a great opportunity to present the world through different lenses. That is one of the mandates of the Platform for Action.

Every day, when I arrive at work and am greeted by our organization’s logo reminding us of those ideas and values for which we fought so hard, I smile and think “See how far we've come!” Congratulations Beijing!

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