Towards violence-free research organisations: interview with Anne Laure Humbert, UniSAFE project

Anne Laure Humbert, Oxford Brookes Business School, interviewed by Paola Carboni, University of Cagliari

Gender-based violence affects many organisations, with Universities and research organisations making no exception, but despite the scale of the issue, gender-based violence in research organisations is deeply under-reported and under-researched. The UniSAFE H2020 project is conducting the first large-scale study on the topic. Following the joint #SafeResearch4All awareness campaign, we had the pleasure to interview Anne Laure Humbert,  a member of SUPERA international advisory board and also a UniSAFE partner.

In which forms can GBV occur in academic and research environments? Who are the victims and the perpetrators? Are the victims of intersectional discriminations more at risk?
The Istanbul Convention highlights four main forms of gender-based violence: physical, sexual, psychological and economic. In the UniSAFE project, we include all four but also consider other forms of violence relevant to the academic and research context such as sexual and gender harassment. We are also interested in emerging forms of violence, such as those linked to the increase in online activities, or the forms of violence not always recognised as violence such as institutional violence.

The issue of gender-based violence is often conflated with that of violence against women. While men represent the majority of perpetrators of all types of violence, and women are the majority of victims of gender-based violence, suffering disproportionate consequences, it is important to stress that both women and men can be perpetrators and victims. Intersectional factors play an important role besides gender alone. Being non-binary, trans, or from a sexual minority for example can increase exposure to gender-based violence, as does working in more precarious positions or not studying in one’s country of origin.

Is data available on how many people experience harassment and GBV in academia in Europe?
Few data are available
on gender-based violence generally across Europe, with even fewer information available in the context of academic and research institutions. The UniSAFE project will provide the first large-scale study on this topic, providing both quantitative data through a survey carried out in 45 institutions across 15 countries and in-depth qualitative data through case studies of institutional responses in 15 countries and interviews with researchers more at risk of gender-based violence. The project is currently launching a call for researchers having experienced or witnessed gender-based violence at an early-career stage, on a non-permanent contract, or as an internationally-mobile student or staff, to share their experience in an individual interview. Find out more about the interviews.

These results will be contextualised through an extensive mapping of legal frameworks and policies at the national level and within the institutions taking part in the research.
The project has already delivered 33 country reports on national and regional policies on gender-based violence in universities, research institutes and research funding organisations, that are publicly available at this link.

What does it mean to switch from an individualist perspective to an organisational violence perspective?
Gender-based violence should not be understood solely from an individual perspective, where the traits or behaviours of either victims or perpetrators are the focus of attention. Instead, it is important to understand violence as a structural issue, and part of a system that produces and reproduces inequalities between groups, including on the basis of gender. Organisations, such as for example universities, create and uphold the norms that shape this system of inequalities. Studying organisational violence therefore means also putting the focus on the environment, and what it does to enable or challenge gender-based violence at the individual level, but also how it can be violent towards individuals in its own right. This is visible when institutions not only fail victims, but in fact revictimise and blame them in turn rather than address the problem of violence itself.

What are “violence-free” organisations and workplaces?
International standards such as the ILO Convention n.190 recognise the right for individuals to a world of work free from violence and harassment. The UniSAFE project aspires to contribute to the creation of violence-free universities and other research organisations. This can be achieved by developing policies and practices to counter violence, promoting violence-free cultures and enable leaders to support this. It is not only about eradicating different forms of violence, but also about creating and sustaining structural change of an environment where individuals feel – and are – included and safe.

How can a research institution address the issue of GBV, for instance including specific actions in their GEPs? How should institutions challenge the power structures behind GBV?
The Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans – aimed at supporting institutions to meet the Gender Equality Plan (GEP) eligibility criterion of Horizon Europe – recommends five content-related (thematic) areas, including measures against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment. It is likely that this will lead to an increase in the number of institutions in Europe that develop and implement actions to tackle the issue of gender-based violence. A danger, however, is that if this is only done as response to a financial incentive such as access to funding, then it will fail to properly address the power and inequality structures that are at the root of gender-based violence in the first place. It seems that many institutions are realising the extent and importance of the problem as a result of societal campaigns such as #MeToo, but all too often only putting meaningful processes and structures in place in reaction to critical incidents and/or media exposure. On an optimistic note, the UniSAFE will provide many evidence-based tools by the end of 2023 for institutions that seek to eradicate the problem and change their culture, and thus create the shift in power relations that is needed to create inclusive and safe universities and research organisations.

The project’s latest developments are regularly shared on Twitter (@UniSAFE_GBV), LinkedIn, and through a quarterly newsletter to which you can subscribe here.

2022-01-12T17:36:41+02:00November 30th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

Unconscious bias in research funding: a new webinar for RFOs on December 16th. Register now!

How research funding organisations can intervene to avoid unconscious biases in their work? A new webinar designed for RFOs will take place on Dec, 16th h. 11-12:30 CET.

The first speaker, Maxime Forest (Science Po, SUPERA Monitoring and Evaluation partner), will explain the different aspects of RFOs’ work where unconscious bias may slip in and influence ultimate effects.

The intervention of the second speaker will be of a more practical nature: Carry Hergaarden, from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), will share NWO’s experiences with the ‘inclusive assessment’ initiative. This practice is being promoted by the European Commission in its recently published “Horizon Europe Guidance on Gender Equality Plans”.

After the two presentations, there will be time for questions and answers.

Click here for the registration form

This is the 4th webinar organised by SUPERA and specifically dedicated to gender equality in research funding organisations.

2021-11-30T16:16:06+02:00November 30th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

SAVE THE DATE! On March 25th 2022 the SUPERA Final Conference: see you in Madrid & online

Time to save an important date on your calendars!

On Friday, 25th March 2022 (h. 9:30-16:30 CET) the SUPERA final conference will take place. The sustainability of institutional change for gender equality will be the core topic of the day.
We are glad to announce that Marcela Linkova is confirmed as keynote presenter. Stay tuned to know all the speakers!

The event will be held in a hybrid mode: we look forward to meeting you in Madrid, at the UCM Campus Moncloa, and online. A registration form will be available in the next weeks.

You are more than welcome to share the news with your colleagues!

2021-12-10T13:36:09+02:00November 30th, 2021|Tags: , , , , , |

Gender equality in R&I ecosystems: engaging external actors in institutional change processes

By Maria Sangiuliano (Research Director and CEO at Smart Venice, CALIPER scientific coordinator)

In recent years ERA policies on gender equality in research have expanded their scope to cover innovation at large. This is reflected in several policy documents, and responds to an overarching emphasis on bridging academic research with society and the economy, an orientation that is visible in the Horizon Europe Work Programme and the value attributed to research impact thereof.

More specifically, the European Commission most recent policy directions on Gender Equality in R&I and institutional change that seek for ‘inclusive’ Gender Equality Plans, refer to “multi-sectoriality” as one of the dimensions (along with intersectionality and geographic inclusiveness) on which a forthcoming  Horizon Europe funded Centre of Excellence on gender in R&I and the next generation of sister projects on institutional change will be called to investigate, generate knowledge,  and experiment about.

The H2020 CALIPER project was designed and is now implemented, since 2020, having multisectoriality as its key specific feature to be embedded in all steps of the institutional change process, from the internal assessment to the GEPs design and implementation phases, as well as  in monitoring and evaluation. In concrete, this has implied for example an expanded scope for the internal initial assessment studies: Third Mission, Technology Transfer, Science Communication have been included to the usual recommended areas that are also part of the Horizon Europe requirement on GEPs. Also, the internal assessment/audits have been complemented by ‘external assessments’ and a gender sensitive mapping of innovation ecosystems using different methods including Social Network analysis, by each one of the 9 partner RPOs and RFOs, according to a specific set of indicators and to map.

Adopting a quadruple/multiple helix and gender sensitive approach to innovation ecosystems, all the 9 RPOs and RFOs have then formed their own “CALIPER R&I Hubs” engaging with national, regional and local authorities, private companies, social innovation actors and civil society (including feminist) organizations, as well as high schools and media. A co-creation process running in parallel with both internal and selected and motivated external actors has led to the design of GEPs. While the plans clearly keep their main focus on generating internal sustainable change, they include collaborative initiatives to be implemented in synergy with external actors: the purpose is thus to promote and support gender equality inward at the CALIPER partner organizations, while having an outward and multiplying effect at the territorial level.

At the consortium level, continuous efforts have been devoted since the very first phases on studying and sharing good and promising practices and criticalities potentially emerging from this approach, enquiring gender expert organizations, communities of practices, sister projects (SUPERA included), and the Advisory Board members. Specific, hands-on and interactive training sessions and modules have been delivered to partners including simulations on the engagement strategies to be devised.

All in all, we believe in the transformational potential of a multi-sectorial approach to gender equality in R&I, and at the same time we are aware of potential risks and tensions that might arise.

Even if the experience from the project is still ongoing as most of the partners have recently started the first GEPs’ iteration with some delay mostly due to the covid19 pandemic, our learning path on these matters can be summarized as follows:

  • It is important to re-interpret and re-define the multisectorialy/intersectorial dimension of inclusive GEPs going beyond the mere interaction with the private sector, relying on gender and feminist interpretations of innovation ecosystems and, including those ‘marginal’ actors whose voices and positions are often more critical of mainstream (often gender blind or neutral) innovation policies and discourses.
  • Synergy processes, alliances and exogenous change factors can be featured as potential levers, generating exchanges of gender expertise, facilitating internal consensus building particularly from high management positions, and their buy-in towards gender equality.
  • At the same time, risks are to be taken into account, and efforts well balanced as external factors can become scapegoats to avoid taking full responsibility towards internal change, or lead to losing focus from the internal change dynamics that have an already high level of complexity to handle.

If you have experience and methods to share, we are more than interest to learn and interact on multi- inter-sectorial approaches to institutional change for gender equality, so do not hesitate to contact us!

Gender-based violence in research and academia: a joint awareness campaign with the sister projects

Leveraging on the International day for the Elimination of violence against women (25 November), the H2020 UniSAFE project on gender-based violence in university and research organisations has joined forces with sister projects involved in structural change for gender equality in research and academia (SUPERA, SPEAR, TARGET, TARGETED-MPI, GEARING ROLES, RESET) as well as with other projects, organisations, and individuals, to raise awareness on gender-based violence in research and academia through a campaign running between 22 and 29 November 2021.  

Gender-based violence is a complex, prevalent, persistent feature and force in many organisations, with pandemic proportions. Violence, violations, and abuse may be physical, sexual, economic/financial, psychological – online or offline – and can include gender or sexual harassment.  

Universities and research organisations are not exempt from this pandemic. Specific organisational structures can even create conditions for hierarchies of power that are structured by gender and age and regularly underpin violence. While gender-based violence deeply impacts individual lives, it also has serious social, economic, and health repercussions on organisational and social levels.  

Despite the scale, the political significance and the growing interest in academia, gender-based violence in research organisations remains largely under-reported and under-researched. It also often remains unspoken. 

A selection of the contents shared during the #Saferesearch4All awareness-raising campagin can be found at this link.

From 22 to 29 November, all projects, organisations, and individuals intent on eradicating gender-based violence in academia and research organisations are invited to actively post on social media using the hashtag #SafeResearch4All. 

Media, articles, reports designed or collected by UniSAFE and sister projects have been made freely available in an Awareness-raising Toolkit. When sharing UniSAFE results, full acknowledgement of the project and authors must be mentioned, as stated in the introduction.  

Fighting gender-based violence in academia and research starts with bringing the issue to the surface, paving the way for victims to speak out, and for all students and research staff to be proactive role models in this respect. 

Contact: Colette Schrodi, European Science Foundation, UniSAFE communication officer: