Beyond Parody! Oxfam's New 92-Page Inclusivity Guide

Oxfam's new 92-page inclusivity guide calls English 'the language of a colonising nation'

Image by Tim Mossholder from Unsplash

Oxfam came under fire last night for issuing a bizarre 'inclusive' language guide to staff.

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 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. Oxfam said in a statement yesterday: 'This guide 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.'

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

'How is ignoring 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 during pregnancy. Oxfam cannot safeguard women and children if they can't communicate clearly who women and children are.'

Image by Clay Banks from Unsplash

Nigel Mills, Tory MP added: 'It's as though Oxfam are trying to take the word 'woman' out of the dictionary � it's nonsense.' Toby Young of the Free Speech Union said, 'It would be altogether more sensible if Oxfam focused on its core mission of alleviating poverty and starvation.' Meanwhile, 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.'

The guidance that'll leave you thinking satire is dead

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: Some transgender and non-binary people may not identify with these roles. 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. Instead: Menstrual products, period products
  • Avoid: Women and children, ladies Why: 'Women and children' reaffirms the patriarchal view that women are as helpless as children. It wrongly suggests that men are not in need of protection and that women have no capacity to act. Instead: Women, men, girls, boys
  • Avoid: Biological male/female, male/female-bodied, natal male/female and born male/female Why: They do not respect the identity of transgender people Instead: AFAB, AMAB � acronyms meaning 'assigned female/ male at birth'
  • Avoid: Gay and lesbian Why: It is important to note that some people consider this to be insufficient. Instead: LGBTQIA+
  • Avoid: Mankind Why: Mankind has an inherent association with maleness Instead: Human beings, humankind
  • 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. 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: Developed country, developing country, underdeveloped countries, third world Why: 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
  • Avoid: Poor people, the poor 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


 Language certainly is powerful. While Oxfam feel their intentions are good, many people think they have gone too far and are being too politically correct. Read the article and think to yourself - do you agree?


Checkout 'Bonus Content' to get this article, the vocabulary and questions in PDF form!













  1. be/come under fire (idiom) (expression)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    The government has come under fire for its decision to close the mines.

  2. decolonise sth (verb)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    How can art decolonize its Western-centric norms and practices?

  3. relieve sth (verb)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    Being able to tell the truth at last seemed to relieve her.

  4. famine (noun)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    When famine strikes, it is often women and children who suffer the most.

  5. alleviate sth (verb)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    Are we doing enough to alleviate poverty in these countries?

  6. intuitive (adjective)

    → Guess the definition from context!

    Some students have an intuitive grasp of mathematical concepts.

  1. What is Oxfam? What is their purpose?

  2. Why are they being criticised?

  3. Summarise the quoted criticism in the article.

  4. What do you think of the language suggestions? Explain