A look at the rise in gender neutral language in the Netherlands and beyond

Edition 5 September, by Hanna Fillingham

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, GVB and the NS are all now using gender neutral language

Last month, the NS announced their new timetable – and it was rather signifi cant. From the 10 December, passengers will no longer be addressed as “ladies and gentlemen,” at train stations. Instead, the new automatic broadcasts – which are played approximately 24,000 times per day , will refer to them as “best passengers.” In a statement, the NS made it evident that their priority was to make everyone feel welcome. They said: “We found’ dear ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, LGBTQIA ‘ers and anyone with a valid longterm transport certifi cate. And yet we feel it’s important that everyone is welcome to us. Therefore, we choose to address our travellers from the new timetable with “best travellers.”

The transition from gender-specific phrases to gender-neutral alternatives is something that has been slowly becoming the norm. In July, Amsterdam local council published a gender neutral language guide, with alternatives to ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ including ‘Best Amsterdammers”, “Best People”, and “Dear attendees.” The council will also no longer use the gender-specifi c phrase “Dear Sir/Madam,” at the beginning of a letter.

The new use of language follows in the lead of London, who too announced its decision to use only gender-neutral language at train stations, with Transport for London (TfL) using phrases such as “good afternoon everyone.”

The NS and Amsterdam Council, however, are not the only Dutch organisations to implicate gender-neutral language. Amsterdam Airport Shiphol has been using the phrase: “best travellers,” and “your attention please,” for a while now, as has the Amsterdam transport company, GVB. A spokesperson for GVB said that their use of gender-neutral language wasn’t so much of an attention, rather than a logical message: “Once upon a time it was stuck ladies and gentlemen. That we now use best travellers has nothing to do with gender neutrality. We just think this is a logical message,” they said.

For the goodwill organisation Hivos, gender-neutral language is more than normal. On online registration forms, clients can specify “different” as their gender in addition to “man” and “female.” However, there are some companies that are choosing to stick to the traditional approach of addressing customers as either a male or female. These include Dutch bank ABN Amro and N.V Nuon Energy, along with transporters in cities including Rotterdam and The Hague, who still remain using the terms “Dear traveller,” and “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Both companies have so far had no complaints about the way they address the public, it has been reported.

The rise of gender-neural language to address citizens is on the whole, is increasing. Last year, Utrecht made its bathroom signs gender-neutral in its City Hall, as did the universities in Amsterdam in Leiden. Most recently, the SP called for the council to add gender neutral toilets to Amsterdam’s city hall to eliminate any discomfort for those needing to use the facilities.