The power of words OLACEFS’ guideline for gender-neutral language


18th Jul 2023

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OLACEFS’ guideline for gender-neutral language

The Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Supreme
Audit Institutions (OLACEFS) SAI members have been
innovative for a variety of reasons. For some time now
OLACEFS started to tread with purpose the road towards the
mainstream of a gender perspective and Non-discrimination,
not only in the endeavours of our organization but also all SAI
members that comprise it.
The working group on Gender Equality and Non-discrimination
(GTG) of OLACEFS in compliance with the Gender Equality
and Non-discrimination Policy, presents this Guide, which
proposes to take in consideration the meaning of the messages
we aspire to convey, how we desire to communicate them
and -above all- to whom they are addressed.
Contemplating a gender-inclusive, and diversity perspective
in the efforts of SAIs is not only a matter of equality but also
complying with the standards of public integrity. And so forth,
we contribute to strengthening peaceful and fair institutions
without leaving anyone behind.
And it is not by chance that this guide is launched on the
International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women
and Girls (November 25).
Language possesses power and is imperative we use it to
represent society and reflect its diversity.
Jorge Bermúdez Soto
Comptroller General of the Republic of Chile
Chairman of the Working Group on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination – GTG OLACEFS
November 25, 2022

Prologue 5
The power of words: A Guideline for
gender-neutral language 8
What is gender-neutral language? 10
What is the role of language in SAIs? 14
In what ways can we use gender-neutral language
in our institutions? 16
I. Self-Diagnosis 17
II. Guidelines on gender-neutral language 18
III. Glossary for gender-neutral language 24
References 27

The power of words:
A Guideline for
gender -neutral language
Promoting and Respecting the Principle of Equality and
Non-discrimination is the foundation for the Policy on Gender
Equality and Non-discrimination (GTG
1) of the Latin American
and Caribbean Organization of Supreme Audits (OLACEFS). The
present document was approved at the XXX OLACEFS General
Assembly of 2021.
The Policy on Gender Equality and Non-discrimination offers a
unique opportunity for strengthening the Organization’s work by
contributing to substantive equality, accelerating transversality in
the gender perspective, as well as, establishing inclusion, respect
for human rights, equality, and non-discrimination as intersecting
purposes in all Member SAIs. Considering this framework, the
present document is based on the recommendations of the GTG
Policy regarding the Gender, Inclusion, and Diversity Observatory
(GID), which is the methodological coordinator of the process,
studies, and working documents, as well as the leader of
promoting initiatives implemented.

Among the recommendations of the policy, one is ‘to sensitise
SAI staff on the importance of the use of neutral and inclusive
2. In particular, it is recommended by the axis of culture
organization that OLACEFS ‘develops a guide for the use of
inclusive non-sexist language which favours gender equality,
diversity, and inclusion’
This guide was originally developed in a participatory
manner through focus groups, meetings, and workshops by
relevant OLACEFS stakeholders, GTG focal points, and Civil
Society participants. For more information and details on
methodology here.
We have adapted the original guide as a means of meeting the
needs of English-speaking members of OLACEFS in writing
formal documents and interacting with colleagues in neutral
languages in the workplace.
2   OLACEFS (2021) Política sobre Igualdad de Género y No Discriminación, recomendación transversal V, pág. 31.
3   OLACEFS (2021) Política sobre Igualdad de Género y No Discriminación, recomendación 2.15, pág. 47.

What is
Language is an elaborated system of communication capable
of transmitting any type of message using signs and symbols.
When communicating, we share ideas, beliefs and doctrines,
judgments, customs, or even values that shape our perception of
reality, as well as various imaginaries and archetypes transferred
individually and collectively. Through language, we establish our
current perceptions and our actions, hence with our words we
are able to educate and create new realities for our societies.
Viewed in this way, Language is dynamic, it’s constantly changing,
but it’s also versatile in terms of how you can use it. Either
through verbal language
4 that includes oral 5, written 6, and iconic
7 or through non-verbal language 8 that encompasses
body language
9, paralanguage 10, and haptics 11 or proxemics 12.
The use of these forms of communication allows expressing a
message or interpretation while differentiating it from another.
4   Type of language that encompasses both written and spoken communications
5   Refers to the act of communication achieved through spoken word.
6   Refers to the act of communication achieved through the written word.
7   Iconicity or Iconic language refers to instances in which the form of language is resembled by symbols, signs, and
visual representations.
8   Refers to the act of communication that presides the use of visual images over language.
9   Refers to the act of communication which uses physical behavior, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate
10   Also known as vocalics, which refers to the use of non-verbal elements in speech, such as intonation, and register,
among others.
11   Refers to a branch of non-verbal communication that comprises how people and animals communicate via the
sense of touch.
12   Refers to how space and proximity affect human interactions.

Several aspects of inequality are rooted in language, not only
within language’s network of significance but also in how these
phenomena is reproduced in daily communication; some terms,
ideas, or even words can exclude certain groups of people, or
emphasize the hierarchy between people resulting in further
marginalisation of certain minorities. An example of this is the
reaffirmation of gender stereotypes through expressions and
comments that attribute certain roles to each of the different
genders according to their sexual characteristics. Another
example is generically speaking in the masculine as if it were a
neutral communication modality. Language used like this leads
to ambiguous communication and the invisibilities of other
social groups in society, such as women, trans, and non-binary
Numerous international instruments aim to broaden the
deconstruction of sociocultural patterns, including language,
thus, to achieve a more equitable and inclusive society for all
people. Some of these instances have been the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
13 and
the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment,
and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of
Belém do Pará
13   Naciones Unidas, Convención sobre la eliminación de todas las formas de discriminación contra la mujer.
Disponible en:
14   OEA. (1994). Convención Interamericana para prevenir, sancionar y erradicar la violencia contra la mujer”
Convención de Belem do Pará”. Extraída de:

The implementation of non-discriminatory language is not just
a matter of political correctness; it is a real and powerful tool
that aids in the inclusion of individual and collective attitudes,
behaviours, and perceptions. According to the survey applied
in 2019 on the gender situation within OLACEFS, 77% of the
staff members consider that gender equality is incorporated
in the daily language within their SAI. Despite this, one out of
every two women surveyed perceives that the institution has
not integrated gender equality in its formal discourse, which
indicates an institutional gap with this issue
15   OLACEFS (2021) Política sobre Igualdad de Género y No Discriminación, pág. 47.
In this guide, The OLACEFS Working Group
on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination
proposes the use of gender-inclusive language
through a viewpoint of neutrality where lexical
options should not prioritise one social group
over another; or the use of one shouldn´t be
perceived as universal or preferred. At the same
time this proposal suggests avoiding visual
burden in written language caused by the
repetition of pronouns.

With the tools of language, we must express ourselves in a way
that does not discriminate against anyone based on gender,
gender identity, or gender expression, nor perpetuate gender
Using neutral language facilitates social change and contributes
to gender equality, as well as reflecting and powerfully influencing
people’s attitudes, behaviours, and perceptions, thereby reducing
gender stereotypes. Moreover, consciously using or not neutral
language sends an implicit message in our communications,
since avoiding neutral language denies the inherently diverse
nature of humans and thus further discriminates against
non-binary people.

What is the role of
language in SAIs?
Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs), like all institutions that are
part of the State, are at the service of citizens. On this basis,
SAIs must create institutional efforts that intersect the Human
rights approach and the gender perspective, as it is part of the
commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development, as well as various international treaties relating to
human rights.
One of the leading principles of OLACEFS’ Policy on Gender
Equality and Non-Discrimination is precisely equality and Non-
discrimination. This principle and values must prevail in all
actions of the SAIs that comprise OLACEFS, as well as in the
actions of all the people who work in them. We understand
that gender plays a role in many aspects of our lives, and one
of the ways is through language. The power of our society’s
hierarchies and its resulting inequalities relies on language by
holding back useless conceptions and marginalizing minorities
through discourse but language also embraces the possibility
of educating and perpetuating values such as those mentioned
above. In this regard, the State needs to take a stand and make
these values and principles relevant in our language, where
neutrality is the key to not leave anyone behind.

The GTG maintains that SAIs must fulfil their duty and
responsibility by becoming aware of language’s power; being firm
and taking responsibility are the first steps towards achieving a
neutral language that reaffirms equality and non-discrimination.

In what ways can we use
gender-neutral language in
our institutions?
The Policy on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination has as its
fifth central objective: “to sensitize SAI staff on the importance
of the use of neutral and inclusive language”. Herewith, it is
expected that the civil servants of the member SAIs of OLACEFS
will question and raise awareness on the language that has
prevailed in usage thus far and incorporate a more neutral
language in their daily work.
The following three tools are made available to the OLACEFS
community to help staff members adapt their communication
towards a free-bias language.
Advice: Before communicating orally or in writing question
yourself: Do you know the person who is addressed? Do
you know their gender identity?
If you already know the gender identities of the people, you can
assess the manner of your message. You can decide whether
you will use gendered pronouns or will omit any, and tailor
it according to your necessities. When writing about a known
individual, it is recommended to use that person’s identified
If you are not sure about the gender identity of the person who
is going to receive your message keep using the person’s name,
surname, or title rather than substituting for a pronoun. Rephrase
as necessary to reduce the number of times you must repeat it.
Refer to the pronouns that transgender and gender-
nonconforming people use as “identified pronouns,” “self-
identified pronouns,” or “pronouns”.

I. Self-Diagnosis
We have adapted the original guide as a means of meeting the
needs of English-speaking members of OLACEFS in writing
formal documents and interacting with colleagues in neutral
languages in the workplace.

II. Guidelines on gender-neutral language
There are multiple alternatives that allow to apply neutral
language and avoid gender-marked nouns, gender references,
or gender-bias expressions. The GTG informs and suggests the
following strategies:
Use non-discriminatory language
Avoid Gendered Nouns
We recommend avoiding the use of gender-specific language.
Individuals regularly utilise gendered language when referring
to others, even if the gender does not align with the subject.
Although many of us may use these terms without the intention
to exclude others, gendered language does not acknowledge or
validate the existence of those who identify outside of society’s
gender binarism. Using gender-inclusive or neutral language, we
as a collective can impact positively and reconsider previous
gendered stereotypes rooted in our day-to-day language.

Some examples of gendered nouns and their more inclusive
Gendered noun Gender-neutral noun
Man Person, individual
Mankind People, human beings, humanity
Man-made Machine-made, synthetic, artificial
The common man The average person
Manpower Workforce, workers
Mother country Homeland
Manned crewed
Male, female People of different genders
Fraternal Social
Advice: Although most English nouns do not possess any
type of grammatical gender, some nouns referring to people or
humankind do not have a separate form from the particle “men”.
Nowadays, people usually prefer more neutral forms, such
as everyone or everybody, distinguished guests, colleagues,
collaborators, partners, associates, all assembled, team, folks,
friends, humans, individuals, person, people or even y’all.

Avoid the use of adjectives weighted
with gender stereotypes
We need to pay attention to the use of different adjectives that
may be associated with gender stereotypes. The prevalence of
these tendencies has decreased, and progress has been made,
however, some adjectives can connote bias and prejudice when
used in a particular context, especially when referring to gender.
These age-old valorisations and preconceptions that revolve
around gender stereotypes must be addressed and removed
from our vocabularies.
For example:
Quality Male term Female term
Emotional Passionate Hysterical
Forthright Assertive Aggressive
Leader Commanding Bossy
Determined Go-getter strongheaded
Career-focused Ambitious Ambitious (negative),
Dragon Lady
Intimidating Dominant Ball-busting. abusive
Successful Genius Hard Worker
Parent with a job Employee, Worker Working mother
Arguing intensely Vehement Illogical, Irrational,
Arguing Calmy Rational Cold, Calculating
Words used only for women
Bubbly Excessively cheerful
High maintenance Vain, Expensive habits
Pushy Demanding, Overbearing
Sassy Self-assured, confident

The use of pronoun requires specificity and care since it’s one
of the few gender markers available in English. When writing
about a known individual, it is recommended to use that person’s
identified pronouns. Some individuals may alternate between
“he” and “she” or “they,” whereas others use no pronouns at all
and use their name in place of pronouns.
Pronouns SubjectObjectPossessive Reflexive
He/ him /
his He spokeI answered
him This is his
group He looks
at himself
She / Her /
Hers She spokeI answered
her This is her
group She looks
at herself
They /
Them /
Theirs They
spoke I answered
them This is their
group They look
at them –
Not recommended Solutions
The use of alternative pronouns such as “ze,” “xe,” “hir,” “per,” “ve,”
“ey,” and “hen” (Middle Swedish gender-neutral pronoun), are not
recommended for workplace use since they are ambiguous and
confusing. We recommend using “They” as a singular pronoun when
gender-inclusive language is required or relevant.
Other preferable options are:
· Rephrasing to omit the pronoun.
· Replace with a definite article (the) or an indefinite article (a).
· Replace with a descriptive phrase.

Do not make gender visible when is not
relevant to the conversation
Omit the gendered word
We recommend omitting the gendered word in those contexts
where is not indispensable for the reader and can help
contribute to achieving a more gender-neutral language. We
encourage that this can be done effectively also by replacing
it with a name or title or even by rephrasing the statement.

For example:
Less Inclusive Inclusive solution
Requests for the seminar
on “Government auditing
standards on the public
sector” are being sent to
her/his email. Requests for the seminar
on “Government Auditing
standards on the public
sector” are being sent to the
coordinator´s official email.
The Finance Director was
asked a question regarding
the new 2023 scholarship
program for civil servants.
She replied it was not
included in the agenda to be
discussed. The Finance Director was
asked a question regarding
the new 2023 scholarship
program for civil servants.
The program was not
inlcuded in the agenda to be
Ms. Flowers was questioned
about an unissued passport,
and she said: “The passport
before this one would have
been spoiled, that is why is
unissued”. Then she was
asked whether there was a
chance of apply again and
she responded “yes”. A question was asked about
an unissued passport and
Ms. Flowers answered: “It
would have been spoiled
before this passport was
issued.”. Flowers replied
“yes” when asked whether
the citizen would be able to
apply again.

Forms of address
Titles and Names
When addressing or referring to specific individuals, there should
be consistency in the way women and men are referred to: if one
of them is addressed by their name, last name, courtesy title, or
profession, the other one should be as well. We recommend that
the most inclusive solution is addressing everyone with their
respective tittle or position in official documentation.
For example:
Less Inclusive Inclusive Solution
Counsellor Geller (surname
and title for a man) and
Janice (First name and title
for women) will be attending
the panel tomorrow. Counsellor Geller and Chair
Green will be attending the
panel tomorrow.
The Financial Secretary
Jones and Mrs. Rachel are
on charge of electing the new
Working Group on gender and
non-discrimination. The financial Secretary and
The Deputy Director are on
charge of electing the new
Working Group on Gender
and Non-discrimination.
If you’re currently in contact with someone, you can ask how that person would
like to be referred to.
Tailor your message when necessary!
You have likely been told not to use the passive form while writing…
But we do recommend using the passive voice as a recourse for outside workplace
interactions. When changing a sentence into passive voice the reader´s focus
shifts from the subject to the object. Which can be helpful to eradicate gender
stereotypes and gendered nouns that are rooted in daily communication.
We and other international institutions recommend using this strategy only
· You need or want to avoid using gendered pronouns.
· To emphasise more on the action or object rather than the subject.
· You don´t want to make clear the subject or want to avoid misgendering.

III. Glossary for gender-neutral language
The following is a series of practical examples for people who
wish to apply neutral languages to their day-to-day life.
Greetings and Addressees
Not recommended Recommended
Greetings Ladies and
gentlemen… Greetings everybody.
Hello guys Hello everyone.
Sir (in “Dear sir”, etc.) Dear Editor, Dear members,
Dear committee, to whom
it may concern or Dear
[Professional title].
Gentleman and ladies Colleagues, Gentle people.
Ma’am, Sir Excuse me.
Men All assembled.

Not recommendedRecommended
Chairman/chairwoman Chairperson, chair
Lady Prime Minister Prime Minister
Congressman Member of congress, Legislator,
congressional representative,
Councilman Council member
Ombudsman Ombuds, Official Investigator,
Assemblyman Assemblyperson

Not recommendedRecommended
Male/female lawyer Lawyer
Male/female consultant Consultant, advisor
Spokesman Spokesperson
Layman Layperson
Foreman Foreperson, supervisor, boss
Salesman/saleswoman Salesperson
Cleaning lady Office cleaner
Crewman Staff
Middleman Intermediary


American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines
for psychological practice with transgender and gender
nonconforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9),
American Psychological Association. (2020). Bias-free
language. (Online guidelines).
European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)
(2022). Gender Sensitive Communication. Overview
Government of Canada (2022). Inclusionary: A collection
of Gender-inclusive Solutions. (Writing tips). Inclusionary:
A collection of gender-inclusive solutions – Writing Tips
Plus – Outils d’aide à la rédaction – Ressources du
Portail linguistique du Canada – (noslangues-
Government of Canada (2021). Guide on Equity, Diversity
and Inclusion Terminology. https://www.noslangues-
United Nations (UN) (2017). Gender-Sensitive Language
(Guidelines 1990)
language en.pdf?la=en&vs=2129

Further information
American Psychological Association. (2020). Bias-
free language.
Government of Canada. (2022). Inclusive Writing.
(Guidelines and Resources) https://www.noslangues-
Investing in Rural People (IFAD) (2017). Glossary on
Gender Issues. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
University of North Carolina (2020). Gender Inclusive
Language. Tips and Tools The Writing Center. https://


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