Brazil: Intersectionality and inclusive non-sexist language: Gender Working Group and SFF Human Rights

Gender mainstreaming within the company

  1. Introduction – Social and political scenario

Despite the constitutionally guaranteed rights and ratified international obligations regarding human rights and gender equity, Brazil continues to face cultural and political barriers that are structurally patriarchal, sexist and racist.

Since Bolsonaro’s candidacy for the presidency in mid-2018, we have had a scenario permeated by reactionary discourses that go against certain egalitarian, social and human rights. In addition to the often racist[1] and militaristic content, some elements are highlighted in these discourses, such as “gender ideology”[2], “feminism” and, recently and more emphatically, the “ideology of climate change”, “climateism” or “climate dictatorship”[3].

The link between these discursive elements is that, according to the current government, they must be combated, as they supposedly attack the family, the national sovereignty and democracy. Thus, this rhetoric has been accentuated since January 2019 with the inauguration of the new government, which already shows its results.

As a result, in the semantics field, this revival of the traditionalist, conservative and sexist framework has also already manifested itself. It seems increasingly difficult to pursue an explicit gender approach with partner organizations, since there is already a defensive attitude in some ministries simply in the use of central concepts – such as “gender”, “women’s empowerment”, as well as “climate change” and “deforestation”.

Another issue is the increase in violence against LGBTI people and against women in public or domestic life, which continues to be alarming, also in the first months of 2019, as repeatedly reported[4].

In Brazil, violence against women is one of the most serious human rights violations. According to WHO data, Brazil is the fifth most violent country in the world in terms of feminicide, with a rate of 4,8 homicides per 100.000 women in 2013[1]. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum[2], in 2018 a case of domestic violence was registered in the country every two minutes (an increase of 0,8% compared to the previous year). According to the same source, 1.206 cases of feminicide were registered in 2018, an increase of 4% in relation to the previous year. The intersectionality of gender and ethnic-racial characteristic plays a major role in this scenario (as in many others), given that 61% of the victims of feminicide are afro-brazilian women.


Considering the context and data, the Gender WG in partnership with the SFF Human Rights chose to work on two fronts transversally (either in the implementation of projects or in the workplace) throughout 2019: the development of an inclusive and non-sexist language and the intersectionality of gender and ethnic racial characteristics.

  1. Corporate Culture

In general, there is a clear awareness, interest and motivation on the part of GIZ Brazil’s staff to work on gender issues and in the wider context of human rights.

The Company has a very concrete gender structure:

  • GIZ Brazil has appointed a member of the team as Gender-AP and, since July 2019, has had two gender technical advisors (NP 30% and 50%) who share responsibility for monitoring and promoting the theme in projects.
  • A year-long human rights SFF project also strengthens the anchoring of the human rights and gender-based approach in BMZ projects in Brazil.
  • There is a very active working group on internal issues of gender equality and corporate culture and on the issue of gender mainstreaming in projects. This group is composed of about 20 gender focal points from projects of the Tropical Forest and Energy Programmes, the Communication Centre, the Agency and the Administrative Group. Among the promoted activities, we can mention: (a) forum for presentation and discussion of relevant themes and good practices of the projects; (b) proposals for the Menagement Team for the strategic direction of gender in GIZ Brazil; (c) organization of events, training, debates, etc.
  • In 2019, the National Policy Against Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in the Workplace was instituted. The policy has a local contact structure: (a) two internal people (NP 10%, AMA 10%) for its implementation and evaluation, as well as for counseling and receiving complaints; and (b) one external person of trust, hired to advise and receive complaints on issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.

In addition, one of the six objectives set in the country planning for 2019 was to promote gender mainstreaming in projects.


  1. Gender Competence

Gender equality is the prerequisite and driving force for a future that is worth living in everywhere and encompasses the equal participation of men and women in economic, political, ecological and social development.

In 2019, we adopted the strategy of working from an intersectional race/gender perspective, as GIZ has an internal gender strategy (Gender reloaded: Vision needs Attitude – Attitude meets Action, 2019), which currently understands the theme as one of the scopes of human rights[1]. Well, when we talk about gender, we are also talking, among others, about gender identities, sexual orientation, sexual minorities and “women”, in the plural, that in a perspective of contextualization gender/race/ethnicity/class are different women, are different people, who have different experiences, realities and needs.

Then, strategically and consciously, we chose gender issues as the “gateway” to the theme of ethnic-racial characteristics from an intersectional approach.

We answered the question “why do we want to discuss this?” on two fronts: a) the target groups of GIZ projects and b) the alterity relationship with those who work with us, which translates into a quality working environment. In other words, our view of gender mainstreaming is that the process must be both internal and external and has to permeate all project-related activities.


We promote, then, successive and interconnected actions:

  • In June 2019, at the National Meeting, we promoted an Open Space for dialogue with colleagues about gender issues and ethnic-racial characteristics, in order to take an overview of the perspectives and needs of colleagues and the projects on the themes. On this occasion, we also delivered a flyer with a glossary of terms to raise awareness.
  • In July 2019, based on feedbacks collected from the Open Space, we promoted an event in honor of the day of the Afro-Latin American, Caribbean and diaspora women, with the participation of a representative of UN Women and a representative of the Undersecretariat for Human Rights and Racial Equality Policies of the Federal District (SUBDHIR-DF). On this occasion, the interfaces between the theme and public management and sustainable development were widely discussed.
  • In September 2019, as a result of the previous actions in line with the actions of GIZ Central[2], we developed an Inclusive and Non-sexist Language Manual (Manual de Linguagem Inclusiva e Não Sexista) to be used in all express communications (verbal and written) of GIZ Brazil.

This manual covers gender, ethnic-racial characteristics and people with disabilities, in a communication in conformity with national and international standards (such as the Durban Conference and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, both from the UN).

As one of the forms of expression and cultural manifestation, we can say that language changes and adapts to the new realities and needs of the community that uses it, expressing what society values.


Taking this evaluative premise to the domain of human rights and gender issues, we see the absence and/or erroneous representativeness of a group of subjects as well as the absence of the direct evocation of feminine and non-binary people in linguistic discourse. This is not something of minor importance, as it implies a social devaluation of the needs and symbolic representation of people who do not fit in the hegemonic reference: white male, straight male, in productive age and able-bodied.


Specifically, with regard to gender, language has been one of the means of control and domination that has subjugated and obscured women, trans*[3] and non-binary[4] people in discourses, as well as their practices and their history. The use of the masculine gender produces ambiguities and

confusions that can lead to a position of subordination and/or semantic devaluation of the feminine and other sexual dissidents and, moreover, produces certain effects on the historical distribution of gender roles and gender relations in society.


Therefore, inclusive and non-sexist language corresponds to a type of language that aims to reverse, through the chosen words or structures, a situation of discrimination and occultation of women, trans* and non-binary people, as well as to avoid the ambiguity of certain messages when one takes “the masculine as the neutral and generic form of communication”.  


What is our goal with this? To stop naturalizing situations and relationships that are unequal and to bring these situations to visibility. Only in this way can we (a) think about effective representation policies; (b) promote the use of a sensitive, inclusive and representative vocabulary; (c) think about how the company can be attractive to socially disadvantaged groups; (d) think about how we can have a more active posture on the topic; (e) practice an inclusive and representative organizational culture; among others.

  1. Cooperation


The gender and human rights agenda is a social agenda that can only be collectively constructed and promoted. Therefore, there is cooperation at an internal level. The Gender Working Group and the SFF Human Rights, realizing many synergies, began to undertake various actions together. It is also always possible to count with colleagues from other projects that have sensitivity and interest in the agenda, and many of these people are part of the WG.


Cooperation at the external level is a very active network with other international organizations, with representatives of civil society and public management, who always bring contributions, experiences and good practices to the promoted actions. These contacts, throughout 2019, were systematized in a document and constantly activated, in order not to lose the dialogue with external focal points.


It can be said that the four key factors for the success of the incorporation of inclusive and non-sexist language are: (a) to have an internal structure that legitimizes this type of action; (b) to adopt a mainstreaming strategy for projects and an internal mainstreaming, which seeks to address symbolic issues and cultural values as well; (c) to have focal points in projects that embrace the theme and take it within their team; (d) to promote spaces for dialogue with the internal team itself and with the participation of external people with expertise in the theme.

Regarding the challenges, one of them concerns emphatically the gender issue. Gender roles are so embedded in Brazilian society that they translate not only into semantics, but even into grammar. Managing these genderlized sentence structures was not an easy task and required a lot of research.

Another challenge is the one that always arises when we are talking about gender and human rights: the cultural barriers that exist are historical and structural. Inclusive and non-sexist language is a matter of practice and respect, which must be used in everyday life. So, grassroots work and awareness raising actions are always necessary to make people incorporate these agendas and be receptive to them.

As a conclusion, we leave the provocation that, when we talk about Brazil, we are always dealing with very different social, regional and local realities, in which gender, race, ethnicity and class play diverse and complex roles. It manifests itself in the basic aspects, as in the language itself, and this should always be taken into consideration. So, if the theme may seem distant, it is not: it’s in the work, it’s in the work environment, it’s about the person next door, it’s about our surroundings and about the day to day life.



[1] “Gender equality is a human right whose realisation is neither a given nor something that happens and will be realised all on its own. It entails a conscious approach to the transformation of gender relations and, above all, it calls for active engagement on the part of us all. Gender equality is enshrined in Article 3 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, to which we feel deeply committed.” (Gender reloaded: Vision needs Attitude – Attitude meets Action, 2019, 2019, p.5)

[2] GIZ Intranet (2019): Arterisk bei den Deutschen. Available on :

[3] Trans*, with an asterisk, is an umbrella term for all identities of people whose gender is different from that designated at birth. It encompasses transsexual, transgender, transvestite, non-binary people and any intersection between these terms.

[4] Non-binary people are those who do not perceive themselves to be either men or women.


[1] WAISELFISZ, Julio Jacobo. Mapa da Violência 2015: homicídio de mulheres no Brasil. Brasília, 2015. Available on : <>. Acesso em: 17/05/2019.

[2] FSPB (2019):


[1] CARTA CAPITAL (2019). Parlamentares acusam Bolsonaro de racismo e pedem investigação ao MPF. Available on :

BBC BRASIL (2019). Bolsonaro: a infância do presidente entre quilombolas, guerrilheiros e a rica família de Rubens Paiva. Available on:

[2] FAZ (2019): „Ich werde die Gender-Ideologie bekämpfen“

[3] ESTADÃO (2019). Ernesto Araújo critica ‘climatismo’ e diz que a ‘justiça social’ é pretexto para ditadura. Available on :,ernesto-araujo-critica-climatismo-e-diz-que-justica-social-e-pretexto-para-ditadura,70003006673

TERRA (2019). Ernesto Araújo nega aquecimento global em discurso nos EUA. Available on :,66172f007894f76aa6c987a907da6ed0ohrnxqa0.html

[4] G1 (2019):;