The UN theme for International Women’s Day this year is Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030. Although community interpreting is a professional field where women already make up more than half of the workforce, the work is not done. Community interpreters fill a vital role in a society, ensuring that women who are not proficient in the official language can access public institutions, social services, healthcare, emergency response and legal services within their communities. Current issues in this profession affect both the women who work as interpreters and the women who depend on their services.
When interpreting is seen as simply possessing conversational ability in two languages, this opens the door for using unqualified interpreters who may not be fully fluent in the process of interpreting or aware of the ethical standards that an interpreter should follow. This can compromise patient safety, result in mistrials or wrongful convictions, as well as generally restrict foreign language speaking women’s access to services that their native language counterparts use.
Furthermore, when interpreting services are not adequately weighed in budget decisions and funds are not allocated for this essential service, agencies resort to using staff, family members or untrained interpreters who work for lower wages. Professional interpreters find themselves competing for lower paid positions or not being used at all. This undercuts both the well-being of women using interpreters, professional interpreters who are priced out of the job market and the untrained interpreters themselves who are working for substandard wages.
Critical Link International is active in the movement for a better model, relying on standards and professional training, that keeps wages for community interpreters at reasonable levels and protects the clients they serve. It encourages non-certified interpreters to seek further training and gain higher-paid professional employment instead of a race to the lowest common denominator.