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Swiss rectors back campaign against sexual harassment


Campaign is “strong sign of will” to raise awareness, implement preventative measures and apply sanctions

Heads of Swiss universities and research institutes have backed a new campaign against sexual harassment in academia.

Swiss Universities, a group representing higher education institutions across the country, is starting a Sexual Harassment Awareness Day involving online talks and events at universities, which will take place for the first time on 23 March.

The group said it is launching the campaign in partnership with several Swiss research institutions and other academic organisations to identify the causes and consequences of sexual harassment, because preventing it requires knowledge and awareness.

Yves Flückiger, rector of the University of Geneva, said the fact that all rectors across the country are backing the campaign is “a strong signal of the will expressed by all to raise awareness, implement preventive measures and, if necessary, take exemplary sanctions”.

Growing ‘risk factors’

Various studies have found that sexual harassment takes place across higher education, according to the campaign website. It adds that there are a growing number of “risk factors” in universities that can increase the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour, including precarious employment conditions and a lack of diversity at management level.

In a video for the campaign, Swiss rectors and research institute presidents said sexual harassment and sexism can be compounded by the nature of relationships between students and lecturers, and between doctoral students and supervisors.  

“These relationships often involve imbalances of power and assaults typically arise within an asymmetrical power dynamic,” said Günther Dissertori, rector of ETH Zurich.

The rectors urged people to report harassing behaviour and to be supportive of others so sanctions can be put in place. Luciana Vaccaro, rector of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland, added that there is still a “lot to do” to tackle sexual harassment at universities.