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Recommendations for action against sexual harassment in the European Research and Higher Education Sector

Gender-based violence (gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual abuse) is prevalent at all levels of higher education and research and in all disciplines. It has destructive consequences for individuals and institutions as well as for the quality of research and education. Despite this, these questions have received very little attention both in terms of research and on the policy level in Europe. A new European Union report therefore gives 23 recommendations and calls on all stakeholders to take further action.

The report Sexual Harassment in the Research and Higher Education Sector National Policies and Measures in EU Member States and Associated Countries is published by the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation. The working group is part of ERAC, the European Commission’s Reasearch Area and Innovation Committee.

To map policy responses in the EU, the standing working group conducted a survey in Member States and Associated Countries. It covered the policies, strategies, actions, and measures taken at the national and EU level to address gender-based violence in higher education and research.

– The survey’s focus was on strategies, measures, and actions at the national level, not the university/institutional level, says Maja Lundqvist, analyst at the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research, who worked with the survey. This is an important limitation that guides both the reading of the material, the analysis, and the recommendations in the report.

Analysis of the results

The analysis of the results reveal that even though the #MeToo movement has put the question of gender-based violence and sexual harassment in academia higher up on the agenda in several of the Member States and Associated Countries, knowledge and acknowledgment of these issues remain weak. To sum up:

  • Gender-based violence in academia is, with a few exceptions, an unrecognised issue and an underdeveloped field of knowledge at the national level in the European Research Area.
  • In general, a cohesive infrastructure for tackling gender-based violence in academia in the Member States and Associated Countries is missing. There is a prominent lack of relevant policies, legislation/regulations, responsible authorities, and up-to-date data.
  • No country has done a sufficient level of work to combat gender-based violence in higher education. Only a few countries have introduced cohesive measures and activities that may be able to achieve institutional change.
  • Whether and how the issue is addressed varies amongst the countries. The kinds of activities and measures in place, the allocation of financial incentives, and the existence of relevant infrastructures also differ significantly.
  • The higher risk of victimisation for internationally mobile researchers is not recognised, not in the ongoing work against gender-based violence in academia or in the ongoing work on academic mobility at the national or EU level.

Despite the destructive consequence of gender-based violence for individuals, institutions, and society and on the quality of research and education itself, questions of gender-based violence in higher education have, according to this report, received very little attention both in research and on a policy level in Europe.


International research, experience-based knowledge and the result of this study point to the need for all actors to take responsibility for reducing and preventing gender-based violence.

– The report specifically points out the need to acknowledge it as existing in the research and higher education sector across Europe, to develop research-based knowledge on the topic, to build effective support structures for victims, and to take bold measures to create diverse, inclusive, and respectful research and study environments, concludes Maja Lundqvist, at the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research.

The report ends up with giving 23 recommendations, aiming to contribute to one of the objectives of the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, ‘Ending Gender-based Violence’, specifically in the research and higher education sector.


By Jessica Glanzelius