The United Nations (UN), in collaboration with its partner-arm, UN Women, has received backlash after tweeting a list of gender-neutral alternatives last week as replacements for commonly-used gendered expressions in the English language.

The list consisted of gender-neutral terminology against its gendered counterparts, including the replacement of “manpower” with “workforce”, “mankind” with “humankind” and “husband/wife” with “spouse.”

“If you don’t know someone’s gender or when talking about a group, use gender-neutral language,” the post reads.

Some Twitter users and LGBTQI activists have welcomed the UN’s attempts to encourage inclusivity, with many agreeing that more non-binary language should be up-taken in the public’s lexicon.

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“As an English teacher and linguist, who thinks we should all be doing more to combat sexism in our language, thank you for providing a list of options. Many of the negative comments are the exact sort of people who need this list,” one user commented.

CEO of Equality Australia, Anna Brown, welcomed the UN’s Tweet and told Star Observer that promoting non-binary terminology is a big first step towards greater inclusivity for trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community-members.

“Language matters, and it’s important that institutions such as the UN promote the use of words and terms that include everyone but also allow individuals to exercise personal choice when it comes to the terms that they feel are most appropriate to them,” she said

“Though the UN guidelines are still largely aligned to the gender binary, these changes are a start to creating a more inclusive world. We would like to see changes that are more inclusive of the trans and gender diverse community.”

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Brown also noted the importance of encompassing non-binary language for other LGBTQI community-members, and said that “small changes” to how someone refers to relationships can have greatly positive impacts for other individuals.

“Incorrect assumptions when using terms like “wife” or “husband” when referring to someone’s partner or spouse can alienate LGBTQI people and put them in uncomfortable situations. We should always be as inclusive as possible when using language to describe people unknown to us,” she told Star Observer.

“Changing small terms like these in language can have a hugely positive impact on individuals, when affirming their gender.

“It also helps change societal stigma around gender roles and the binary, and can begin to break down the barriers that prevent people of other genders from seeing themselves in particular roles or positions of leadership.”

However, many other Twitter users have called the tweet ‘tone-deaf’ as it focusses on political-language during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many across the globe continue to lose their lives every day.

“I remember when I used to respect this organisation. We all make mistakes,” One Twitter user replied.

“The #coronavirus is ripping through countries killing hundreds of thousands of people and this is what this tone deaf incompetent organization is focussed on. Time to defund UN and this waste of space group UN women. They are doing precious little to help women around the world,” another user wrote.

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A series of inter-agency working groups developed the guidelines as part of a project called ‘Supporting gender equality in multilingual contexts.’ The project itself is the UN’s strategy for gender equality and creating “a working environment that embraces equality, eradicates bias and is inclusive for all staff”.

Some were quick to humorously re-edit the original post from the UN, with the words “landlord” replaced with the word “parasite.”

Others criticised the seemingly ‘thought-police-Esque’ attitude of the UN – though asking someone to use gender-neutral or affirming terminology is hardly comparable to a 1984 dystopia.

However, many were quick to identify that certain countries currently sitting on the UN Human Rights Council, including Afghanistan and Qatar, are also countries with some of the most harmful laws towards the LGBTQI community.

Furthermore, others Twitter users pointed out the hypocrisy of asking for gender-neutral terminology when countries such as China, one of the biggest perpetrators of human rights abuse in the 21st century, is also sitting on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

“A ridiculous waste of time and money. No wonder people think the UN are irrelevant and a waste of time. Meanwhile China are appointed on to the UN Human Rights Council. Explain that to the Uighurs in so called Chinese re-education centres: concentratin [concentration] camps,” another user replied.

The thread itself has been taken over by many right-wing extremist and conservative users.

As a result, we at Star Observer advise a trigger warning (TW) if you do intend to examine the original thread, as it may contain hurtful language and images that some readers may find distressing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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