University of Iceland

Statement regarding sexual- and gender-based harassment against women in academia

Statement regarding sexual- and gender-based harassment against women in academia

Statement from the Rector of the University of Iceland regarding sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and other forms of sexual violence against women in academia 
 
Solidarity amongst women and personal accounts of women experiencing sexual harassment and other types of sexual violence have shaken up Icelandic society. Now, women in academia have stepped forward, revealed their own experiences of being harassed, silenced, and marginalized in the work place.
 
It is important that the academic community listens to these accounts and takes them seriously. University management bears a huge responsibility in this regard. I therefore want to make it clear that the University of Iceland management stands with the sufferers and takes their cause seriously. Sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and other instances of violence are not tolerated at the University under any circumstances, and such behaviour may result in reprimands and dismissals. 
 
Women's accounts demonstrate how objectification and hostile attitudes towards them are manifested in various aspects of daily life, both in interactions with colleagues and students. This is clearly a culture that needs to be changed; and this culture, regrettably, has been systemic within the academic community, as the examples demonstrate. But how can we change culture? How do we prevent such abuse of power? How will we at the University of Iceland respond to women's calls for action?
 
The leaders of University of Iceland will not tolerate abuse of power and humiliating treatment of women and marginalised groups. We have, therefore, begun assessing how to prevent and address the problem, in addition to those procedures and resources already in place at the University.
 
In 2003, The University of Iceland established its Code of Ethics, which emphasises mutual respect in communication and interaction. At the beginning of 2014, the University Council approved the Rules of procedure on the response to gender-related and sexual harassment and other sexual violence. These Rules have recently been revised and updated. A Professional Council operates on the basis of these rules. Its role is to process matters relating to the aforementioned offences committed by University of Iceland staff members and students. The appointed chair of the Council is an independent and external specialist with expert professional knowledge and experience. These rules and the Professional Council have demonstrated their value, but it is clear that this is not sufficient. Nonetheless, I hope that the discussion of this serious issue will make it easier for victims to step forward and that they will be listened to and believed.
 
Below are the actions which the University of Iceland will implement soon. The University's Equal Rights Policy is currently under review, taking the experiences of victims of sexual violence and harassment into account. The actions below will be included in the policy.
 
Actions
 
  • Representatives of women in the academia have called for the scope and nature of the above described issue to be thoroughly researched. The University welcomes its participation in this project.
  • A survey will be conducted among students and staff members regarding sexual harassment and violence at the University of Iceland. The survey shall examine whether women and marginalized groups experience disrespect in their communication, interaction, and collaboration within the University.
  • The University will provide regular education sessions in class to increase students' understanding of how sexual harassment and violence manifest themselves. In these sessions, the available provisions will be introduced. The University will also look at ways of preventing inappropriate and harmful comments in teaching evaluation surveys.
  • Trainings will be organised for all University of Iceland staff members on mutual respect in communication and interaction and on how to prevent sexual harassment and violence within the academic community.
  • As a long-term goal, we must ensure to pass on the importance of respect in interaction between genders, on to the next generation. The University of Iceland will therefore, examine how to ensure that knowledge of equality is integrated into the University's teacher education. 
  • I have already appointed a working group to determine what further action needs to be taken. This group will consult with representatives of women in academia, student representatives, and the University's Professional Council.
 
Finally, I want to stress that it is of the utmost importance that staff members and students of the University of Iceland feel safe, that they feel valued, and that they know that their voice matters. I am, therefore, very grateful to the women who have come forward and I admire their strength. The honour is theirs, but the shame belongs to the abusers.
 
Jón Atli Benediktsson, 
Rector of the University of Iceland
 
Monday, December 4, 2017 - 12:00
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