Arabic for Gender: Practical Views on Gendered Language in Human Rights, Education, and Policy Contexts

Layal Mohammad's picture
December 13, 2019
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Human Rights, Linguistics, Middle East History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies



Gender and its representation in language are of paramount current importance. This is also true for Arabic at a time of globally changing norms on violence against women and against LGBTQ people. The language that communicates the realities of gender for Arabic-speaking stakeholders, including translations from and to Arabic, are central to policy responses and to the development of educational materials. However, the language itself, and how to understand it, is often taken for granted. Arabic is a gendered language, and some of the debates regarding gender-free formulations, like those discussions surrounding French, German, Spanish, Persian, and Turkish, have started in Arab practitioner, but not academic, circles. The problem of gendered formulations which prefer masculine forms poses a challenge for translation into English in particular, because English does not present grammatical gender in the same way as Arabic. English is the language of global governance and the language of human rights campaigning, and so the place of translation between Arabic and English needs to be considered in the policy context. Human rights stakeholders in the Middle East and North Africa, and women and LGBTQ people in particular, to some extent rely for political recognition on the mediation of their voices and narratives through non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and on gradual social change through education. The terminology and the sociology of this mediation will be examined in this workshop, in presentations and applied exercises looking at gender both in texts and in translators’ experiences. 


The workshop aims to form a frame in which academics exchange knowledge about gendered language with human rights practitioners and policy-makers in a developing conversation.


From 10am to 5pm the Governance Programme will be hosting an intersectorial workshop looking at gender in translation, with seven presentations and two group activities. The presenters will be: Nadine El-Nabli, Riham Debian, Roula Seghaier, Maria Rosa Garrido Sardà, Leïla Kherbiche, Lara Antonios, and Tory Brykalski. The group activities will be facilitated by Wine Tesseur and Sanaa Alimia. The workshop will result in a working paper with reflections on, and suggestions for, best practices for the Arabic translation of policy texts with gendered inflections. Any specialist who would like to participate in the workshop can email with an expression of interest.

Download the programme.

Keynote Speakers
Prof Hilary Footitt, University of Reading. Prof Hilary Footitt recently co-edited The Palgrave Handbook of Languages and Conflict (2019). She combines four areas of research: women in politics, war and liberation in France, UK language policy, and languages in zones of war, conflict and development. She has led projects on the militarised use of languages for surveillance, propaganda and exclusion, and on the use of languages in non-governmental organisations. She has also advised the UK government on its language policy for education. Hilary Footitt’s previous publications include “Translation and War” in The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics (with Michael Kelly, 2018), “International Aid and Development: Hearing Multilingualism, Learning from Intercultural Encounters in the History of OxfamGB” in Language and Intercultural Communication (2017), and Women, Europe and the New Languages of Politics (2016).


Wassim Wagdy, UN interpreter and rights activist.


Rothna Begum, Women's rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa region, Human Rights Watch.


Dina El Mamoun, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Oxfam-Yemen.


Policy-makers (TBC).

This conference is organised by AKU-ISMC's Governance Programme. The Governance Programme’s annual workshops and conferences on a range of themes explore how Muslim societies develop political systems that promote public welfare, achieve popular legitimacy and recognise minority rights in a time marked by heated debates over tradition, religion and modernity.

AKU-ISMC conveners: Nancy Hawker, Sanaa Alimia and Gianluca Parolin.

Time and Venue
13 December 2019
Atrium Conference Room,
Aga Khan Centre,
10 Handyside Street,
London N1C 4DN

Evening keynotes (17.30-20.00) are open to the public. Book as soon as possible. 

Contact Info: 


Layal Mohammad

Coordinator, Marketing, Communications and Professional Programmes

Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

The Aga Khan University (International)

Aga Khan Centre, 10 Handyside Street, London N1C 4DN


Contact Email: