Oxfam’s new 92-page inclusivity guide calls English ‘the language of a colonising nation’ and tells staff to avoid the words ‘mother’ ‘headquarters’ – and even ‘youth’. No wonder critics are saying it’s...
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.’
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’.
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
‘Ignoring the world’s mothers’
individual parents have a preference for a role name’ such as mother or father, staff should ‘respect their choice’.
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.’
IN the heat of war, famine or natural disaster, it is surely vital for international aid workers to communicate in clear, straightforward terms with those they are trying to help.
Yet a new Oxfam language guide seems designed to do exactly the opposite. Staff are advised to avoid using the word mother in favour of ‘ people who become pregnant’, and biological women generally may be referred to as ‘ AFABs’ (assigned female at birth).
The word headquarters apparently ‘implies a colonial power dynamic’ and even ‘people’ is branded as suspect, as it is ‘often misunderstood as only referring to men’.
With so much pain and suffering in the world you might think Oxfam had better things to do than producing this kind of drivel – especially after the Haiti earthquake scandal, when its workers were guilty of sexually abusing girls.
Such sanctimonious organisations love to rail against the legacy of the British Empire, but isn’t inflicting this kind of confusing and alien language on bemused communities in the developing world a form of colonialism in itself?