Gender-inclusive writing: A unifying force

Posted on September 18, 2023

Gender – and specifically, gender inclusivity – are topics that have been very much in the news in recent decades. Gender-diverse individuals and groups around the world have been voicing concerns about various issues, including language that excludes them.

So what’s being done to address these concerns?

In Canada, the federal government is committed to supporting inclusivity in written documents within the public service. As a result, the Translation Bureau at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has developed and published tools to encourage gender-inclusive writing.

Making strides in gender-inclusive writing

In 2017, the Translation Bureau published two bilingual resources to help the federal public service write inclusively: a linguistic recommendation on gender-inclusive correspondence and the Gender and Sexual Diversity Glossary (opens in new tab). In 2021, in response to the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service (opens in new tab), several federal organizations, including the Translation Bureau, co-developed the Guide on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Terminology (opens in new tab).

That same year, in an effort to support the Government of Canada’s diversity and inclusion priorities, representatives from over 35 federal, provincial and territorial organizations came together to form an interdepartmental working group co-chaired by Women and Gender Equality Canada, Canadian Heritage and PSPC. The group’s mandate? To develop guidelines for producing texts free of discrimination on the basis of gender or any other identity factor. As a result, in the fall of 2022, the Translation Bureau published the Guidelines for Inclusive Writing (opens in new tab) and the Inclusionary (opens in new tab), a collection of gender-inclusive solutions for gendered terms, along with their French counterparts, the Lignes directrices sur l’écriture inclusive (opens in new tab) and the Inclusionnaire (opens in new tab).

Overcoming challenges in developing inclusive writing guidelines

The working group’s first challenge was to consolidate resources from various organizations. The group needed to expand on the work already done in order to produce a unified set of guidelines with a wide range of practical solutions for different contexts.

Another concern was to ensure that the guidelines and resources were accessible not only to public servants but also to interested organizations and individuals outside the government. The solution was to house the resources on the Language Portal of Canada, a public-facing website managed by the Translation Bureau.

It was also critical to ensure that the guidelines and resources reflected the perspectives and realities of gender-diverse individuals. To that end, members of gender-diverse communities were called upon to serve as consultants and to assist in drafting content. In addition, rounds of consultations were held with equity, diversity and inclusion networks; language and communications specialists; and organizations with a special interest in inclusive writing. Over 2000 comments were received in English and French. The content was then revised in light of this feedback.

Lastly, a particular challenge involved finding viable solutions for French, a language in which gender is far more visible than in English. Despite a common belief that gender-inclusive writing is impossible in French, the French guidelines provide several effective techniques for achieving a gender-inclusive text.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the Translation Bureau’s gender-inclusive writing guidelines and resources provide suggestions on how to address the issues involved in writing inclusive content; they don’t provide answers that can be automatically applied in all contexts. Writers must therefore carefully discern which solutions should be applied depending on the context, the target audience and the nature of their text.

Note: This post was originally published in Multilingual magazine.


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

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