Measures against gender-based violence including sexual harassment
The field of research and innovation (R & I) is not immune to sexual and gender-based violence, but this issue tends to be underestimated in research organisations and research funding bodies. There is evidence that gender-based violence and sexual harassment are widespread in public institutions and universities, but this is not based on systematically collected data. For this reason, the European Commission has supported initiatives such as UniSAFE to improve knowledge about the extent of the problem and ways to address it. Recent analyses and reviews carried out in the framework of EU-funded projects on structural change, among others, show that there is an urgent need for action on this problem.
All organisations are subject to relevant national or regional laws and regulations, and numerous organisations are likely to have existing employment policies that cover dignity and harassment at work. Organisations may find it sufficient to treat gender-based violence under existing policies and procedures. Increasingly, however, institutions consider it necessary to set up dedicated structures and/or to issue specific procedures and instruments. In any case, the institution must make clear that it does not tolerate abuses.
Measures are needed in this area, such as providing information regarding sexual and gender-based harassment and offering attention and support to victims and witnesses of misconduct, with a commitment to putting an end to such behaviour. A gender equality plan (GEP) may consider what measures the organisation takes to combat gender-based violence and sexual harassment, including behaviour that violates any individual’s dignity or that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Please have a look at the videos and webinars in tab 2 and further resources in tab 3, which provide more details and practical information for the implementation of measures against gender-based violence including sexual harassment (e.g. guide, toolkit).
Through a GEP, organisations can examine the prevalence of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence and implement organisational policies and measures against sexual harassment, such as the following.
- A code of conduct clarifies whether relationships are (or are not) considered harassment, but it should also ensure that potential victims or witnesses of harassment are not deterred from reporting incidents. It may clarify how the interpretation of these behaviours depends on differences of power or authority within different relationships, such as between junior and senior staff, or thesis advisors and PhD candidates.
- A reporting policy should outline how all members of the organisation can report incidents of sexual harassment, including when they are the victim of harassment or witness harassment. This includes clear, visible and robust reporting channels. These channels would address barriers to reporting, including concerns that reports may not be taken seriously, and make clear what can be done to investigate anonymous reports.
- An investigation policy sets out visible and easy-to-understand information for all staff and students about the investigatory and decision-making process, including associated time frames. The policy specifies arrangements to ensure investigations are independent and fair, and clarifies the range of measures that may result from the investigation, as well as information about appeal processes and how they can be accessed.
- Victim support measures can be implemented to provide counselling and information to victims or witnesses about their options following a report, including pastoral support and psychosocial counselling / psychotherapeutic care, both within the organisation and through external organisations such as non-governmental organisations.
- Disciplinary measures for and prosecution of perpetrators can be implemented at organisational level and may also cover guidance and support for reporting to the police, and legal proceedings against suspected perpetrators or harassers, including court cases.
- Educational programmes about sexual and gender-based harassment may prove useful in preventing its occurrence. Activities may include training – including through interactive ‘forum theatre’ – for all staff on expectations, policy and processes, as well as practical advice on how to deal with different situations, such as through ‘witness’ training.
A GEP can also consider how the whole organisation can be mobilised to establish a culture of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and gender-based violence. This includes communication activities that identify the problem, but also measures to ensure that all members of the organisation are empowered to change attitudes, intervene when necessary and create an inclusive and safe culture for the whole organisation. In addition, broader campaigns and awareness-raising may also be developed to communicate these issues and expectations to the wider organisation, for example a student community. In internal and external communication, the senior management should acknowledge gender-based violence including sexual harassment, clearly state that the organisation does not tolerate such behaviour and express their support for victims.
The European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC) Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation produced the following recommendations on gender-based violence in R & I.
The following apply to all organisations in R & I.
- Acknowledge gender-based violence in research and higher education as an unacceptable problem.
- Step up the work for gender equality through GEPs, in line with the EU gender equality strategy 2020–2025
- Build alliances with key stakeholders, both nationally and transnationally.
- Devote at least the same level of attention and volume of resources to gender-based violence as to research misconduct.
- Cultivate sensitivity to the issue and awareness of measures through communication campaigns. Where relevant, these can be funded, for example, in synergy with the structural funds.
The following apply to funding bodies in particular:
- fund research on gender-based violence in higher education and research through specific calls at national and international levels;
- progressively introduce the requirement that policies against gender-based violence have to be in place as a condition for higher education and research organisations to apply for research funding;
- consider sexual harassment just as important as research misconduct in terms of its effect on the integrity of research;
- in funding schemes where international research travel is funded, the receiving institution should be required to have a policy and infrastructure in place to address gender-based violence.
Here are some examples of measures implemented in other organisations (note that they will open in a new window):
- active consent programme, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland,
- code of ethics and deontology, Transilvania University in Brasov, Romania,
- guidelines for equal treatment, University of Tartu, Estonia,
- 'It starts with ME, together WE can’ – annual innovative campaign and public intervention in cases of violence against women, Frederick University, Cyprus,
- protocol against gender-based violence, University of the Basque Country, Spain,
- protocol on gender-based and sexual violence, Network of the Gender Equality Committees of Greek Universities, Greece,
- zero tolerance, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium
- the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) provides a section on good practices for various relevant topics;
- these sustainable measures were already mentioned in the first version of the gender equality in academia and research (GEAR) tool and are still in place.
If you want to learn more about how you can adjust these measures for your own purposes and how to implement them through a GEP, read the step-by-step guide for research organisations, universities and public bodies, or the step-by-step guide for research funding organisations.
- Webinar ‘Acting against sexual harassment in academic and research organisations’:
This training is part of the EU-funded project GE [Gender Equality] Academy capacity building programme. This training seeks to provide an understanding of sexual harassment as an expression of gender violence and power relations. It further discusses examples of interventions and policies and highlights the importance of embedding sexual harassment policies in institutional structural change.
- In this video on sexual harassment among students, Minna Salminen Karlsson (Uppsala University) conducts an interview with Stina Powell from the Swedish University of Agricultural Studies, who has co-authored a paper entitled ‘Persistent norms and the #MeToo effect in Swedish forestry education’. The interview was conducted within the EU-funded project SPEAR and the article discussed can be found here .
The policy brief ‘Mobilising to eradicate gender-based violence and sexual harassment: a new impetus for gender equality in the European research area’ (June 2020) is based on the text adopted by the ERAC Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation on 22 May 2020. It lists 23 recommendations, among which is revising the charter and the code for researchers so that they address gender-based violence (in accordance with the Human Resources Excellence in Research Award).
The report Sexual harassment in the research and higher education sector: National policies and measures in EU Member States and associated countries, published in 2020 by the ERAC Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation, presents an analysis of the answers to a questionnaire sent to national authorities, research-performing organisations and research funding organisations across Europe.
‘Sexual harassment in higher education – a systematic review ’, published in 2020 by Fredrik Bondestam and Maja Lundqvist, reports on the prevalence of sexual harassment among students and the consequences of sexual harassment, and highlights the lack of evidence on the effects of preventive measures and the lack of theoretical, longitudinal, qualitative and intersectional research on sexual harassment in higher education.
Sexual Harassment in Academia – An international research review provides an overview of current knowledge in international research. The review is based on an analysis of approximately 800 publications, out of a total of 5 561, during 1966–2018, which were selected through an extensive search process in literature databases.
Sciences Po (Paris) developed Guidelines on Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the context of the EU-funded structural change project ‘Effective gender equality in research and academia’ (EGERA), which were updated in 2021 following a comprehensive review entrusted to a panel of internal and external experts. The whole policy addresses students and staff.
A concise guide entitled Guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment, harassment on grounds of sex and psychological harassment (2015) was developed by the Polytechnic University of Madrid in the context of the EU-funded structural change project ‘Transforming institutions by gendering contents and gaining equality in research’ (TRIGGER).
A document entitled Preventing and Responding to Gender Based Violence – Guidance for SOAS students and staff (2015), from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, presents awareness-raising and prevention initiatives, as well as guidance for victims and those supporting victims.
The intervention initiative toolkit (2015) was developed by the University of the West of England, Bristol, for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university settings.
A presentation on ‘Combating harassment: policy innovations’ (2020) was delivered by Ana Belén Amil (Central European University) as part of the EU-funded project ‘Supporting the promotion of equality in research and academia’ (SUPERA) during the conference Gender Equality in Central and Eastern European Countries: Policies and practices 2020.
The EU-funded project UniSAFE provides a questionnaire to collect data from staff and students on the prevalence, determinants and consequences of gender-based violence in universities and research organisations. It includes several modules, for example on prevalence, prevention, policies and partnerships, and contains filters to enable different study and work environments to be considered.
The Gender Equality Academy’s Inventory of Key Resources is a practical tool to support the design, implementation and evaluation of gender training initiatives, allowing quick access to relevant information and data pertaining to gender equality in science. It also provides resources for the thematic area ‘sexual harassment and gender-based violence’.
Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 of the International Labour Organization.