Oxfam hits back at critics of trans-inclusive guidance who claim its ‘erasing mums and dads’

Oxfam sign

A guide published by Oxfam for its staff volunteers on how to use inclusive language when dealing with different communities has been “misrepresented”, the charity has told PinkNews.

On Friday (17 March), The Daily Mail dedicated its front page to the charity’s guidelines and Good Morning Britain invited Oxfam’s CEO on to defend challenges to its promotion of inclusivity.

Oxfam’s Inclusive Language Guide was developed by the charity and draws on feedback from specialist organisations, who work with marginalised communities, and its own staff and networks. 

The 92-page toolkit offers advice on how to engage with different groups of people which Oxfam staff and volunteers might come into contact with, including people with a disability, sex workers and the LGBTQ+ community.  

An updated version of the guide, which went live on Monday (13 March), immediately courted controversy for allegedly ‘erasing mothers and fathers’ by encouraging the use of gender neutral terms in certain situations.  

On social media, people were quick to describe the guidance as “woke” and suggested the charity should expect to lose donations because of it. 

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‘Some people have decided to misrepresent the advice’

An Oxfam spokesperson told PinkNews: “We are proud of using inclusive language; we won’t succeed in tackling poverty by excluding marginalised groups. This guide is not prescriptive, it is intended to help authors communicate with the diverse range of people with which we work.

“We are disappointed that some people have decided to misrepresent the advice offered in the guide which clearly states that authors should respect the desires of those who want to be described as a mother or father.”

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Under the ‘LGBTQIA+ Rights and Inclusion’ section of the document, the charity stated people use the phrases “parent” or “parenthood” when unsure of the gender of a particular caregiver but equally respect people who want to be called ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

The guidance as listed in Oxfam’s Inclusive Language Guide (PinkNews)

The guidance stated: “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. 

“The important principle here is to be inclusive in the broader sense by describing people as ‘parents’, but if individual parents have a preference for a role name, to respect their choice.” 

The advice further added: “If trans parents have a preferred specified gender role, such as ‘mother’ or ‘father’, this should be respected. If unsure, it is more inclusive to use ‘parent’.”

As stated at the beginning of the document, Oxfam views the Inclusive Language Guide as “just a guideline for things to think about” and not “prescriptive”

‘We want to treat people with kindness and dignity’

On Friday morning (17 March) Oxfam GB CEO Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah appeared on Good Morning Britain to defend the guidelines. 

Sriskandarajah stated Oxfam has a legal responsibility to “create an inclusive environment within our own workplaces” and so the guide is “not about telling staff what to do” but how to “navigate increasingly complex and divisive debates”. 

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“We want to make sure that we treat people, our own staff, the communities we work with around the world, with kindness and dignity. 

“One of the problems with these sorts of debates happening with megaphones and a sort of shouty weapon, is people’s dignity gets lost,” he told GMB. 

In 2021, Oxfam similarly coming under fire for withdrawing a Wonder Women Bingo game.

It was suggested that the bingo game was pulled because it included Harry Potter author JK Rowling but the truth was trans and non-binary Oxfam workers approached senior management to note the game deadnamed Elliot Page.

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