oxfam inclusive language guide

The 92-page report warns against 'colonial' phrases such as 'headquarters', suggests 'local' may be offensive and says 'people' could be patriarchal.
Oxfam came under fire last night for issuing a bizarre 'inclusive' language guide to staff.

The 92-page report warns against 'colonial' phrases such as 'headquarters', suggests 'local' may be offensive and says 'people' could be patriarchal.

Workers were told 'parent' is often preferable to 'mother' or 'father', terms such as 'feminine hygiene' should be dropped, and 'people who become pregnant' should be used instead of 'expectant mothers'.

The guide even suggests that 'youth', 'the elderly' and 'seniors' should be avoided - to afford respect and dignity.

Tory former minister Robert Buckland said: 'Most people will find this particular use of valuable time and resources by Oxfam totally bizarre. It would do them well to remember the old adage that actions speak louder than words.'

The introduction apologises for being written in and about the English language, saying: 'We recognise that this guide has its origin in English, the language of a colonising nation. We acknowledge the Anglo-supremacy of the sector as part of its coloniality.

'This guide aims to support people who have to work and communicate in the English language as part of this colonial legacy. However, we recognise that the dominance of English is one of the key issues that must be addressed in order to decolonise our ways of working and shift power.'

The official advice from the charity - founded in Oxford in 1942 to relieve famine worldwide - attempts to revolutionise its staff's language across a wide range of fields.

It looks to outlaw 'headquarters' as it 'implies a colonial power dynamic'; 'aid sector', which 'cements ideology where an agent with resources gives support on a charitable basis'; and 'field trip' because it can 'reinforce colonial attitudes'.

Oxfam said in a statement yesterday: 'This guide is not prescriptive but helps authors communicate in a way that is respectful to the diverse range of people with which we work. We are proud of using inclusive language; we won't succeed in tackling poverty by excluding marginalised groups.'

Comment: And you won't succeed in tackling poverty by adopting a bizarre form of NewSpeak. Any sane person can see that these two issues, language and poverty, are at best tangentially related.

The charity said it was disappointed some had 'decided to misrepresent the advice offered in the guide by cropping the document' online.

Released on Monday, the Oxfam publication tells staff not to say they 'stand with' people they support because it 'potentially alienates people unable to stand'. Even 'people' is a suspect word, as it 'is often misunderstood as only referring to men'.

Comment: LOL!

Readers are told 'these guidelines are not set rules and should not be viewed as restrictions'. However the guide launches into long lists of problematic words and phrases beside a large cross and, in capitals, 'WE AVOID'.

'Parent' and 'parenthood' get the Oxfam tick of approval but the document says staff should shy away from 'mother' or 'father' in order to 'avoid assuming the adoption of gendered roles by transgender parents'.

The guide does, however, allow that 'if individual parents have a preference for a role name' such as mother or father, staff should 'respect their choice'.

Comment: Well, that's nice of them.

Maya Forstater, who founded pressure group Sex Matters, accused Oxfam of abolishing the word mother.

'How is ignoring and denigrating the world's mothers good for development?' she asked last night. 'This guidance is trying to apply fashionable ideas about gender identity to people around the world who don't think like this and are dealing with the ordinary problems men and women face every day.

'In Africa, women have a one in 37 chance of dying in pregnancy. But Oxfam seems to think what's really important is erasing clear language about the very people who are most at risk.

'Oxfam cannot safeguard women and children if they can't communicate clearly who women and children are.'

Lee Monks, of the Plain English Campaign, said: 'Oxfam themselves say, by way of announcing their new guide, that words matter. It seems that what they mean is optics are more important than clarity.'

Nigel Mills, Tory MP for Amber Valley, added: 'It's as though Oxfam are trying to take the word 'woman' out of the dictionary - it's nonsense.'

And Toby Young of the Free Speech Union said it was 'hard to take all this woke virtue-signalling seriously' given Oxfam was censured for the way it handled reports that staff sexually exploited children after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

He added: 'It's rather like being lectured by a finger-wagging vicar from behind his pulpit even though he's been publicly disgraced.

'It would be altogether more sensible if Oxfam focused on its core mission of alleviating poverty and starvation.'

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, leader of the Common Sense Group, added: 'Instead of wasting a lot of time with a 92-page document telling people what and how to think, Oxfam should rely on the intuitive common sense of its staff.'

Oxfam's updated language guide to staff is peppered with suggested Do's, Don'ts and the potential pitfalls of any faux pas. Here are some examples of what Oxfam says should not be used, the reasons why, and what should be used instead:

Avoid: Mother or father (avoid assuming the adoption of gendered roles by trans-gender parents)

Why: In patriarchal culture, social norms around gender result in designated roles for parents that reflect expectations of that gender. Some transgender and non-binary people may identify with these roles. However, some may prefer to use other names to designate parenthood

Instead: Parent, parenthood

Avoid: Sanitary products, feminine hygiene

Why: The phrase sanitary products implies that periods are in themselves unclean. This reinforces the stigma around menstruation and female reproductive biology. This matters because around the world people have been discriminated against because of the fact that they menstruate, and a large part of the reasoning is that this makes women 'unclean'

Instead: Menstrual products, period products

Comment: These people are batshit crazy.

Avoid: Women and children, ladies

Why: 'Women and children' reaffirms the patriarchal view that women are as helpless as children, neglecting women's actual and potential roles. It wrongly suggests that men are not in need of protection and that women have no agency or capacity to act. Use phrases that do not categorise women and children in the same group, and (depending on the context) be specific about who you are talking about. Where appropriate, acknowledge that men are or can be victims as well (particularly in situations of war)

Instead: Women, men, girls, boys

Avoid: VAWG (Violence against women and girls)

Why: It may be better to avoid using VAWG where possible because reducing the problem to an acronym can be considered to be trivialising a serious and traumatic issue

Instead: Sexual violence, violence against women and girls, gender-based violence

Avoid: Biological male/female, male/female bodied, natal male/female and born male/female

Why: No one, whether cisgender or transgender, gets to choose what sex they're assigned at birth. This term is preferred to biological male/female, male/female bodied, natal male/ female, and born male/female, which are inaccurate and do not respect the identity of transgender people

Instead: AFAB, AMAB - acronyms meaning 'assigned female/ male at birth'

Avoid: LGBT, LGBTQIX, homosexuality, gay and lesbian (if used alone to refer to the whole LGBTQIA+ community)

Why: There are various versions of this acronym that include different letters to represent different groups. It is important to note that some people consider the + (to indicate others not explicitly covered in this acronym) to be insufficient.

Instead: LGBTQIA+

Avoid: Mankind

Why: Mankind has an inherent association with maleness

Instead: Human beings, humankind

Avoid: Attitudes, behaviours

Why: It is important that when we are referring to collective belief systems we do not confuse them with personal attitudes or actual behaviours. If you are writing about attitudes or behaviours that are rooted in social norms, it is best to be clear about this and acknowledge the historical and cultural context

Instead: Social norms, social beliefs, collective beliefs

Avoid: BAME, BME, mixed race, coloured

Why: While 'people of colour' is commonly used, it has been critiqued as being problematic as it is 'othering' to anyone who is not white. This term reinforces the idea of whiteness as standard and at the same time homogenises all other ethnic groups. However, in some ways, it has been used to create solidarity among racialised people and groups who are or have previously been minorities in campaigns against racism

Comment: It's difficult to see how the term 'racialised' isn't considered offensive. Talk about 'othering'.

Instead: People of colour, person of colour, black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC)

Avoid: Black market

Why: 'Informal economy' avoids negative connotations and is a clear and accurate description

Instead: Informal economy

Avoid: Ethnic minority

Why: 'Minority ethnic' places the emphasis on that ethnicity being a minority or having less power in a particular context, rather than the ethnicity itself being a minority

Instead: Minority ethnic person, minoritised ethnic person, marginalised ethnic person

Avoid: Migration crisis, refugee crisis, migration challenge, migration problem

Why: Migration is not a challenge/crisis/problem. It is not a threat that needs to be stopped. There are many reasons why people flee their homelands, including conflict, persecution, climate change, scarce resources, extreme poverty and inequality, and often a mixture of circumstances

Instead: Migration as a complex phenomenon

Avoid: Local language, local people, local population, local knowledge, local staff

Why: Local staff, for example, is confusing. Local to where? Anyone can be local, depending on the context

Instead: Name the specific country, language, ethnic group or nationality

Avoid: Developed country, developing country, underdeveloped countries, third world

Why: Talking about high/middle/low-income countries recognises that the economic status of a country is situational rather than definitive. Third vs first world implies that wealthier countries are better than poorer ones and erases the colonial history that led to the economic inequality of today

Instead: High / middle / low-income country

Avoid: Headquarters

Why: Implies a power dynamic that prioritises one office over another. In the context in which we work the implication is very colonial, reinforcing hierarchical power issues and a top-down approach

Instead: Name the specific office location

Comment: So even the acknowledgement of a hierarchical structure is considered offensive to these people.

Avoid: Field visit/trip/mission

Why: In Oxfam's context, the phrase field trip was previously used to describe visits to lower-income countries, whereas a trip to New York, for example, would not be considered a field visit. By using this kind of language we reinforce colonial attitudes

Instead: Visit to (specified location), business trip

Avoid: Spokesman

Why: A spokesperson could be of any gender. We should avoid language that implies that men are the default human

Instead: Spokesperson

Avoid: Suffers from, victim of

Why: The phrase 'is affected by' does not define a person by a health issue and avoids negative connotations

Instead: Is affected by

Avoid: Elderly, seniors, youth

Why: Write about older people in a way that affords respect and dignity, and avoid phrases which are homogenising or patronising. The same goes for young people

Instead: People over/under x, elderly people, older people, elders, young people

Avoid: Deaf

Why: The word 'deaf' describes anyone who has a severe hearing problem. Sometimes 'Deaf' is capitalised to refer to people who have been deaf their whole lives, and who use sign language as a first language.

Instead: People with hearing impairment, hard of hearing person, deaf person

Avoid: Poor people, the poor, poorest people

Why: Avoid phrases like poor people, which define people by their experience of poverty. Poverty is a circumstance and not a definition of a passive actor.

Instead: People experiencing poverty, living with/in poverty, living in extreme poverty

Avoid: Beneficiaries, recipients

Why: The people we work with are not passive beneficiaries: they receive support to realise their rights to food, shelter, water, asylum, political participation etc but are agents of their own development

Instead: People we work with, programme participants, service users