Location/geographical coverage

Vilnius University, Lithuania. Gender inclusive language guidelines have been adopted by many HEI all over the world.

Background and description

Avoiding discrimination on the grounds of biological and social gender starts with language, as the symbolic use of gender-biased terminology influences attitudes and expectations and can push women to the background in the mind of a reader or a listener or perpetuates stereotypical perceptions of the roles of women and men. The language reflects and reinforces the identity, cultural views and values, therefore in countries like Lithuania, where surnames end differently depending on gender and marital status, gender-inclusive language guidelines are crucial. Gender neutrality in language has been a matter of inclusion over the last decade at international level. However, it can be stated that the practice is quite new: adoption of multilingual guidelines on gender neutral language in HEIs started in second decade of 2000s.

The Guidelines at Vilnius university have been developed since autumn 2021. The main objective of the Guidelines is to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias at all levels of communication (academic, administrative, research and day-to-day). The Guidelines raise awareness of gender bias and promote usage of gender inclusive language among students and staff of HEIs.

The Gender-inclusive guidelines are part of the strategic Gender Equality plan of the University. Arguments for using the Guidelines are followed by identifying areas for gender inclusive language (communication and documents at all levels of VU administration, academic publications, collegial communication, communication between lecturers and students, all training platforms, databases and tools developed by VU). The Guidelines explain three linguistic strategies to be used (consistent gender labelling, gender labelling interventions and the avoidance), present examples of gender-inclusive Lithuanian language, provide answers to frequently asked questions.

Gender-inclusive language manifests gender equality through language. In language gender equality is attained when women, men and non-binary gender system representatives are addressed through language as persons of equal value, dignity, integrity and respect.

Stakeholders and Partners

The target group as well as the users of these guidelines include all community members of Vilnius University. Although the use of gender-sensitive language is not formally regulated, linguistic awareness is expected to be raised from all the members of the Vilnius university community. Guidelines for gender-inclusive language were developed while implementing SPEAR (Supporting and Implementing Plans for Gender Equality in Academia and Research) project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020.

The benefits of gender inclusive language have been accredited by many international organizations like the World Health Organization, the European Parliament and the European Commission, the United Nations, the International Labour organization, major news agencies and publications as well as many universities (e.g., Harvard University (UK), University of Leipzig Germany), Uppsala University (Sweden), RWTH Aachen University (Germany), Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal) etc.).

Methodological Approach

VU’s gender inclusive language guidelines are one of activities of the Vilnius University Diversity and Equal Opportunities Strategy for 2020-2025 approved by VU Senate. These guidelines have been developed by the Community Development Division, in collaboration with representatives of human rights, linguists, university researchers (professors and lecturers) from Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Faculty of Philology and Faculty of Philosophy. The guidelines have been disseminated via Intranet and official websites of University departments, Student Union.


Associated professor A. Novelskaitė acknowledges the importance of gender-inclusive language in everyday communication (“I was really delighted when, after the approval of the strategy, the following letters from some executives and managers began to address the community, “Gerb. kolegosirkolegės” (“Dear. colleagues” – in Lithuanian language male form for “colleagues” is most commonly used). For me, this means that the awareness and sensitivity of our community (I believe – not only) to gender is growing.

“Tuniekadanebūsigeruchirurgu, nebentpediatre” (transl. “You will never be a good surgeon (male connotation), only a pediatrician (female connotation)” – this discriminatory example shows the importance of gender-inclusive language at Faculty of Medicine.

Innovation potential

Changes in language mirror the changing values. Psycholinguistic studies show that usage of specific words reflect a psychological adaptation to sociocultural change. At first changes may seem inconvenient, however it is inevitable for living in a world compatible with gender equality ideas.

Success Factors

Monitoring for gender equality challenges at HEI; ensuring relevant linguistic expertise; raising awareness of gender-inclusive language; no special economic conditions are needed.


The challenges include: lack of understanding of gender-inclusive language importance; resistance; lack of resources with clear examples how to use gender-inclusive language; lack of support for such measures of HEI authorities; the text becomes overloaded; communication becomes more complicated and lacks spontaneity; difficulties of monitoring for usage of gender-inclusive language.

Lessons learned

The Guidelines should be used together with other Gender equality practices at HEI. The implementation of guidelines takes time and may cause dissatisfaction.


Sustainability may be ensured by provision of Toolboxes for using gender-inclusive language or training programs (e.g. webinars, raising awareness of staff and students, workshops for written, spoken, academic and non-academic language). Internal policies, methodological recommendations, presentations, internal and external communication templates should use gender-inclusive language; HEI authorities support.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

There is a wide possibility of extending the good practice in other HEI in Lithuania and / or other countries sharing the idea of gender equality. To ensure that the practice is replicated in other organizations, monitoring of gender inequality should be made first. The other conditions include prioritization of gender equality questions and a gender equality plan (GEP), as the guidelines are a strategic part of GEP and are effective if used together with other measures (including policies, etc.). The adaptation to the other context depends on linguistic characteristics (other languages) and readiness of the community to make steps towards a more inclusive environment.


Language used in HEIs by educators, in academic documents is extremely influential, because it provides a model for students, community and society as a whole. Word choices reflect notions about gender roles and help in promotion of unbiased and undiscriminatory values. First steps in using more inclusive language habits may be inconvenient, however practicing it may soon become a conscious use (like waste sorting).

Contact details

Community Development Division of Vilnius University,

URL of the practice Reference document

Other examples of practice:

Related Web site(s)

Related resources that have been developed