Guide to Gender-inclusive Writing at Status of Women Canada

This guide goes along with the policy paper Fair Representation of the Genders in French: Gender-inclusive Writing at Status of Women Canada. It draws largely from the guide to gender-inclusive writing published by the Office québécois de la langue françaiseFootnote 1 . In some cases, the recommended solutions may differ from those used by other institutions: they reflect the internal culture, the federal context and North American usage. However, they must not be considered as absolutes, since feminization is a matter that keeps evolving. The key thing is to respect the purpose of the policy, which is to ensure fair visibility for women.

Table of contents

1. Writing Principles and Processes

1.1. Mention both genders

To write les Canadiens [masc. form of "Canadians"] to indicate people living in Canada is to ignore half the country's population! Do not use a masculine word to refer to both men and women at the same time.

Instead of...

Les Canadiens.

[masc. form of "Canadians"]

Write...

Les Canadiennes et les Canadiens.

[masc. and fem. forms of "Canadians"]

Or even...

La population canadienne.

[The Canadian people]

When in doubt about the feminine form of a job title or noun, consult one of the sources listed at point 3. The terms contained in the TERMIUM database are usually accompanied by an approved feminine form, where applicable. Don't disregard general works on language; they can also prove usefulFootnote 2 .

Inserting an explanatory note (e.g. Dans cette brochure, le masculin est utilisé au sens neutre pour alléger le texte [In this brochure, the masculine is used as neutral to lighten the text]) is not an acceptable solution because it relegates women to second place. For the same reason, avoid truncated forms, like client-e-s, client/e/s or les client(e)s, which hinder readability.

1.2. Use collective nouns

The nouns assemblée, collectivité and députation [assembly, community and deputation] are examples of collective nouns, encompassing both men and women.

Instead of...

Toutes les employées et tous les employés doivent assister à la réunion.

[All employees (masc.) and employees (fem.) must attend the meeting.]

Write...

Tout le personnel doit assister à la réunion.

[The entire staff must attend the meeting.]

Instead of...

Les directrices et les directeurs veillent au respect des politiques.

[Managers (fem.) and managers (mas.) ensure that policies are followed.]

Write...

La direction veille au respect des politiques.

[Management ensures that policies are followed.]

1.3. Use gender-inclusive nouns and adjectives

A gender-inclusive noun (e.g. fonctionnaire, gestionnaire, scientifique [public servant, manager, scientist]) can be either masculine or feminine.

Instead of...

Les expertes-conseils et experts-conseils de la commission formuleront des recommandations.

[The board's consultants (fem.) and consultants (masc.) will provide recommendations.]

Write...

Les spécialistes de la commission formuleront des recommandations.

[The commission's specialists will provide recommendations.]

Using gender-inclusive nouns in the plural rather than the singular helps avoid duplicating the noun phrase or the modifier.

Instead of...

La ou le fonctionnaire doit suivre les règles relatives à l'après-mandat.

[fem. "the" or masc. "the" public servant must follow the post-employment rules.]

Write...

Les fonctionnaires doivent suivre les règles relatives à l'après-mandat.

[Public servants must follow the post-employment rules.]

Many nouns once considered masculine are now gender inclusive. You can therefore have une membre fondatrice [a founding member (fem.)], une témoin [a witness (fem.)] etc.

When an adjective modifies a doublet, especially a singular doublet, favour gender-inclusive adjectives.

Instead of...

La direction fera une offre à la candidate ou au candidat qualifié pour le poste.

[Management will make an offer to the candidate who is qualified (masc.) for the position.]

Write...

La direction fera une offre à la candidate ou au candidat apte à occuper le poste.

[Management will make an offer to the candidate who is suitable for the position. (adjective is same in both masc. and fem.)]

After a plural gender-inclusive noun, you can also use a prepositional phrase rather than a masculine adjective.

Instead of...

Les ministres réunis à Vancouver publieront un communiqué.

[The ministers gathered (masc. adjective in French] in Vancouver will issue a release.]

Write...

En réunion à Vancouver, les ministres publieront un communiqué.

[The ministers, meeting in Vancouver, will issue a release.]

1.4. Work with pronouns

When you use a doublet (e.g. les citoyennes et citoyens [female citizens and male citizens), the repeating pronoun is put into the masculine.

Les citoyennes et citoyens ont proposé diverses solutions pour régler le problème. Ils espèrent que le gouvernement en tiendra compte.

[The female citizens and male citizens proposed various solutions for resolving the problem. They [masc. plural pronoun in French] hope that the government will consider them.]

Conversely, when a gender-inclusive noun or a collective noun is used, the repetition should be done by two pronouns to represent both genders.

Les ministres tiendront leur réunion annuelle à Ottawa du 3 au 5 septembre. À cette occasion, elles et ils feront le point sur les progrès accomplis...

[The ministers will hold their annual meeting in Ottawa from September 3 to 5. At that time, they (fem.) and they (masc.) will take stock on the progress made…]

Gender-inclusive pronouns (on, vous, quiconque, personne and plusieurs [you/we (generic), you (plural), anyone, someone and several]) often eliminate the need for doublets and can therefore contribute to greater concision and readability.

Instead of...

La coordonnatrice pourra prendre des mesures disciplinaires à l'égard des employées et employés qui ne respectent pas les exigences.

[The co-ordinator may take disciplinary action against female employees and male employees who do not comply with the requirements.]

Write...

La coordonnatrice pourra prendre des mesures disciplinaires à l'égard de toute personne qui ne respecte pas les exigences.

[The co-ordinator may take disciplinary action against anyone who does not comply with the requirements.]

Instead of...

Le conducteur ou la conductrice doit éteindre son téléphone avant de partir.

[The driver (masc.) or driver (fem.) must turn off the phone before leaving.]

Write...

Si vous conduisez, vous devez éteindre votre téléphone avant de partir.

[If you are driving, you must turn off your phone before leaving.]

1.5. Use the masculine properly

Official titles must not be feminized. For example, the Prix du Gouverneur général en commémoration de l'affaire « personne » [Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case] does not change when a woman holds the position of governor general. Likewise for the names of organizations like Anciens Combattants Canada [Veteran Affairs Canada], the Direction du dirigeant principal de l'information [Chief Information Officer Branch] and the Bureau du vérificateur général [Office of the Auditor General]. Only the title of the individual holding the position takes the feminine.

Son Excellence la très honorable Michaëlle Jean, gouverneure générale du Canada, a remis les Prix du Gouverneur général en commémoration de l'affaire « personne » à six récipiendaires le mardi 15 novembre 2005, à Rideau Hall.

[Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General (fem.) of Canada, issued the Governor General's (masc.) Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case to six recipients on Tuesday, November 15, 2005, at Rideau Hall.]

In some cases, it could be deemed necessary to add a footnote or end note to point out that, despite the use of the masculine, both genders must be considered as included in the title.

Le budget prévoit un investissement de 10 millions de dollars dans le programme Nouveaux Horizons pour les aînés*, afin de soutenir des projets qui encouragent le bénévolat des personnes âgées et font connaître le problème de l'exploitation financière des personnes âgées.

[…New Horizons for Seniors* Program… (masc.)]

* Dans cette appellation, le masculin est utilisé avec valeur de neutre, c'est-à-dire qu'on inclut tant les aînées que les aînés. [In this title, the masculine is used as neutral, i.e. it includes both male and female seniors.]

Having said that, when creating new titles, you should naturally ensure that they automatically comply with the policy.

Some terms can indicate either a flesh-and-blood individual or a company (e.g. a federal institution or a corporation). For example, this is true for employeur [employer] and entrepreneur [contractor]. They are not feminized when they refer to a corporation.

When referencing a document (piece of legislation, policy, monograph, etc.), be careful not to introduce a feminine if the original does not contain it. If you want to provide clarification, a modification or comment, you must do so in brackets Footnote 3 :

"Il est indispensable, pour atteindre les objectifs que le pays s'est fixés, que les institutions fédérales soient bien gérées et attentives aux besoins des citoyens [et des citoyennes], qu'elles collaborent étroitement avec les autres ordres de gouvernement, avec le secteur privé et avec le secteur à but non lucratif."Footnote 4

[….the needs of citizens (masc.) [and citizens] (fem.)…]

1.6. Rework the text

In some cases, it will be necessary to rework the text to properly depict both genders while maintaining readability. You could, for example, change from the concrete to the abstract.

Instead of...

La police a engagé une chasse à l'homme contre les manifestants.

[The police went on a man-hunt against the demonstrators (masc.)]

Write...

La police s'est lancée à la poursuite des manifestantes et manifestants.

The police went in pursuit of the demonstrators (fem.) and demonstrators (masc.)]

Another solution could be to select an unmarked (neutral) noun form rather than marked forms.

Instead of...

Près de quatre fois plus de femmes ont été tuées par leur conjoint ou ancien conjoint que d'hommes par leur conjointe ou ancienne conjointe.

[Nearly four times more women have been killed by their spouse (masc.) or former spouse (masc.) than men by their spouse (fem.) or former spouse (fem.).]

Write...

Les homicides conjugaux ont fait quatre fois plus de victimes chez les femmes que chez les hommes.

[Spousal homicide has claimed four times more victims among women than among men.]

Instead of...

En 2007, les femmes représentaient 61 p. 100 des diplômées et diplômés universitaires.

[In 2007, women represented 61% of male and female university graduates.]

Write...

En 2007, 61 p. 100 des diplômes universitaires ont été décernés à des femmes.

[In 2007, 61% of university degrees were awarded to women.]

When you write, you must always consider the target audience and the anticipated use of the text. Your feminization choices should also reflect that. For example, in a statement of merit criteria, thorough feminization is required. However, in role-playing (interview, exam, etc.), you could temporarily forego doublets in favour of alternating genders.

Vous devez constituer une équipe de communication. On vous a déjà assigné un commis et une rédactrice. Décrivez vos autres besoins de main-d'œuvre.

[You are to put together a communication team. You have already been assigned a clerk (masc.) and a writer (fem.). Describe your other labour requirements.

When you opt for alternation, consider the gender breakdown in the organization, but don't hesitate to take the opportunity to avoid stereotypes (by giving women duties that are traditionally reserved for men and vice-versa).

The best solution will sometimes simply be to replace the passive voice with the active voice.

Instead of...

Les membres du personnel ont été convoqués à une réunion.

[The staff members were called (masc. passive construction) to a meeting.]

Write...

On a convoqué les membres du personnel à une réunion.

[The staff members were called (genderless active construction in French) to a meeting.]

1.7. Other principles and helpful advice

Concision usually goes hand in hand with readability, so don't use two words where one will do.

Instead of...

Les femmes canadiennes.

[Canadian women]

Write...

Les Canadiennes.

[feminine form of "Canadians"]

Instead of...

L'organisme a dénombré 1 200 femmes réfugiées enceintes.

[The organization counted 1,200 pregnant refugee women]

Write...

L'organisme a dénombré 1 200 réfugiées enceintes.

[The organization counted 1,200 pregnant refugees (feminine form)]

Where there is a doublet, you can drop the second article for the sake of concision.

Instead of...

Les citoyennes et les citoyens.

[The female citizens and the male citizens]

Write...

Les citoyennes et citoyens.

[The female citizens and male citizens]

Even though a neutral construction (which uses gender-inclusive and collective nouns) often provides greater concision, it should not be over-used either because it may, just like traditional writing processes, end up making women invisible.

2. Useful On-line Resources

Appendix 1: Quick Reference for Gender-inclusive Writing

General principles

  • Mention both genders
    (e.g. Mesdames et Messieurs, c'est un privilège de vous accueillir… Ladies and gentlemen, it's a privilege… )
  • Give precedence to women
    (i.e. mention them first)
  • Avoid truncated forms
    (e.g. Les étudiant-e-s)
  • Adapt the gender-inclusive writing to the type of text
    (e.g. in an exam, you could alternate the genders, but in a job offer, mention both everywhere)
  • Aim for concision and readability
    (e.g. write la population canadienne [the Canadian people] rather than les femmes et les hommes vivant au Canada [the women and men living in Canada]
  • Vary the processes
    (e.g. don't use only doublets or only collective nouns in a text)
  • Rework the text
    (e.g. instead of a manhunt, talk about pursuing)

Syntactical feminization

  • Use doublets
    (e.g. Les candidates et candidats [female candidates and male candidates])
  • Use repeating pronouns properly
    (e.g. les ministres ont…; elles et ils…[the ministers….; they (fem.) and they (masc.)]

Neutral construction

  • Use collective nouns (e.g. le personnel [the staff]) and gender-inclusive nouns (e.g. les fonctionnaires [public servants])
  • State the function rather than the people
    (e.g. la direction [management])
  • Use the masculine when it applies
    (e.g. Mme Fraser a été vérificatrice générale pendant dix ans; le Bureau du vérificateur général vérifie les activités du gouvernement. [Ms. Fraser was auditor general (fem.) for 10 years; the Office of the Auditor General (masc.) audits the government's activities.]
  • Take advantage of gender-inclusive pronouns
    (quiconque, vous, on, etc. [anyone, you (plural), you/we (generic)]
  • Don't overuse neutral constructions (You have to show that you are addressing both women and men)
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