An inclusivity language guide issued to staff by charity giant Oxfam has raised eyebrows after it urged them to not use the terms “mother” and “father” and apologised to employees for writing the document in English, “the language of a colonising nation”.
The lengthy 92-page dossier was ridiculed by Monty Python star John Cleese and criticised by Maya Forstater, who founded the UK pressure group Sex Matters.
Forstater accused Oxfam of abolishing the word mother.
“How is ignoring and denigrating the world’s mothers good for development?” she asked on Twitter.
The Oxfam document warned against “colonial” phrases such as “headquarters” and stated use of the word “people” could be seen as patriarchal language, because of its links to men.
Oxfam outlined that “feminine hygiene” should be avoided, and employees should use the phrase “people who become pregnant” instead of “expectant mothers”.
Other words that might make some uncomfortable, according to Oxfam, included “youth,” “the elderly” and “seniors”.
At the start of the wide-ranging document, Oxfam introduced the memo by telling staff it recognised “this guide has its origin in English, the language of a colonising nation” and acknowledged “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,” the guide continued.
“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.”
Cleese, a founding member of the comedy troupe Monty Python, has long railed against what he considers to be “cancel culture” and “woke” values in modern society.
He drew particular attention to how the charity wants staff to verbalise how it can best help those in need.
“The funniest single part of the Oxfam guide to the colonial language known as English is the suggestion that using the expression ‘to stand with’ people you support should be avoided as it ‘might potentially alienate people who are not able to stand’.”
Founded in Oxford in 1942 to fight worldwide famine, the global charity organisation defended the guide, and claimed critics like Cleese and Forstater had selectively taken parts of it out of context.
“It is intended as a thought-provoking tool for our staff on how the words we use can subvert or inadvertently reinforce different forms of inequality that we work to end,” it said in a statement.
“The guide contains words and phrases that are relevant to other development and humanitarian organisations, with an explanation of why we might use that phrase instead of other common phrases in the context of power.”
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Another part of the guide directed staff away from using the term “field trip” because it can “reinforce colonial attitudes”.
Oxfam currently works in 80 countries around the world.
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Last modified: December 31, 2022