Words: writing and speaking rights-based, non-stigmatising messaging

Written by Katie Northcott, AmplifyChange

Ensure your language follows the below criteria:

  • Clear: avoid jargon, acronyms, and complicated words. Simple is best
  • Accurate: all language must be correct and based on evidence
  • Non-stigmatising: verify that you use language that does not have negative connotations
  • Readable: use language that is spoken by your audience


Problematic text:

Remember that it will be your fault if you decide not to report a sexual assault and the attacker harms you again or harms someone else. The attackers always have a choice and made one to hurt you and they are fully responsible for it. For this they should be stopped and punished accordingly.

In this example, the language is accusatory and passes judgement on the reader. It reinforces the myth that sexual assault is the fault of the victim, contributing to stigmatisation of sexual assault survivors.

Corrected text:

No matter who the attacker is, even if it is a family member, you should report the attack to the police. The attacker made a choice to hurt you. You can make the choice to stop and punish them accordingly by reporting to the police.

With a few corrections, the text has eliminated the stigmatising language and has transferred the power to the survivor who is reading the text. It also specifies how to go about reporting an assault, which is in line with providing accurate information.

It is important that the language you use remains neutral and unbiased and cannot be interpreted as passing judgement.

Facts and statistics should be relevant and backed up by reputable sources that are clearly shown or stated.

When working on the legal situation of your cause, ensure that the description of the law is accurate (see below). However, in some cases, the law is more restrictive than the reality, or the reality is more restrictive than the law. It is useful to highlight this in your message if it is relevant.

If your aim is to share information on services or care, what is legally available, and how to access these services, ensure it is well researched, backed up, and falls in line with the legal guidelines of your country.

While retaining the central theme of a message, it is essential to adapt messages to what motivates your audience to act.

Often, storytelling and sharing personal experiences can be effective in promoting your cause, if done in a safe, sensitive, and thoughtful manner.

Remember to acquire consent and respect the privacy wishes of the participant and put structures in place to protect their identity, if necessary.

Examples of some fact-based policy and law resources you can use:

The Global Abortion Policies Database for the most updated information on laws and policies regarding abortion in your country.

UNICEF’s resource on Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting Country Profiles for a summary of laws and policies, as well as up-to-date statistics, regarding FGM in your country.

Pew Research Centre’s report on Child Marriage around the world for laws and policies in your country.

ILGA’s report on State-Sponsored Homophobia for most updated laws and policies regarding LGBTI rights in your country.

Katie Northcott, AmplifyChange

Katie is a Technical Performance Manager at AmplifyChange. At her previous work at Population Institute, she conducted analysis for a wide-scale report on demographic vulnerability, as well as managed the organisation’s social media channels.

As a Community Health Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, she implemented youth sexual health programs and supported maternal health and family planning outreach services. She worked with non-profit organisations in the U.S. advocating for women’s rights in the fields of abortion access, domestic violence, and HIV/AIDS.

Katie’s experience at these organisations included social media management, street campaigning, and crafting messaging for publications, as well as the development of advocacy and media toolkits. Katie has a MSc in Population and Development from London School of Economics and a BA in Economics, African Studies, and French from Northwestern University.