Pisa Declaration on Sexual Harassment in Higher Education and Research

STATEMENT from the participants to the international conference #WeTooInScience – Sexual Harassment in Higher Education Institutions and Research Performing Organizations


Pisa Declaration on Sexual Harassment in Higher Education and Research


The international conference #WeTooInScience took place in Pisa on 20 and 21 September 2018, organized by the Italian Association Donne e Scienza and the European Platform of Women Scientists EPWS, and it saw the participation of representatives from 11 countries. After two intense days of talks and exchanges, the assembly agreed on the present document.

The discrimination of women and minorities in science has many facets, from bias, conscious or not, to explicit discouragement and exclusion from informal situations in which decisions are made. Sexual harassment and violence are two of the many factors that contribute to the difficulties that women researchers face during their career, possibly the most hidden, but certainly not the least important ones.

The problem of sexual harassment in the academic and research environment is present in every country, and at every level, from students to full professors, as demonstrated by the studies that have investigated this issue [1-3]. This situation is not acceptable, and we consider it necessary and urgent to take action, at the European Union (EU) level and in a coordinated way, in order to address the issue and make this behaviour stop once for all.



In many Member States, some activities have been developed, also in the framework of EU projects (EGERA , TRIGGER, GENERA, GenderTIME, GenisLab, Garcia and others), mostly aimed at gathering data on the situation of women scientists and experimenting local solutions that could lead to structural changes. Most of the research activities of the projects were dedicated to issues related to the careers of women in science and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). However, the issue of well-being, safety and protection of personnel directly linked to gendered harassment, although a crucial part most of the action plans of the institutions involved, has been addressed directly only by some of them (for example by GenderTIME and GENOVATE). While the available data point to a worrying situation and reveal the urgent need for action, a complete assessment is still lacking, making it necessary to gather better, wider and more homogeneous data across all EU.

This data collection effort must be developed in a coordinated fashion, as in different countries the relevance, perception and even definition of harassment might be different. In this respect, the existing studies can serve as a useful guideline, and also as a basis on which to build historical trends and to monitor and assess progress in the future.

The gathering of data, while extremely important, is not by itself sufficient to solve the problem, and we do have already enough information to start developing solutions and actions. In this respect too, several institutions in different countries have already developed important experiences, as reported at the Pisa meeting (see website #WeTooInScience). The number and breadth of these many experiences are a valid basis on which to build the necessary coordinated action. In fact, as the European Research Area (ERA) becomes a reality, increasing the researchers’ geographical mobility, it becomes progressively more important that women are not going to face different rules and codes in different countries.


In line with the recent European Parliament ‘Report on measures to prevent and combat mobbing and sexual harassment at workplace…’ [4] which, in its Recommendations, points to most of the actions proposed here, we call for a comprehensive, EU wide initiative aimed at addressing this grave problem, in which:

  • A common definition is adopted, so that all persons (women and men) in all countries are aware of what it is meant by sexual harassment, independently of the local prevailing use and attitudes.
  • A common framework is provided for assessing the dimension of the problem, which is most likely underestimated due to a false sense of ‘politeness’, in which issues related to sex are acted, but not spoken, and are frequently considered ‘private’ matters.
  • A set of common instruments is prepared, aimed at victims, harassers, institutions and society.

Victims must be given the possibility of reporting all cases in a safe, protected and, if necessary, anonymous way. They must also be encouraged to report cases urgently, and must be fully respected as victims, also, if not especially, in the cases in which they fell in the trap set up by the perpetrators.

Harassers need to face the consequences of the damage they have done to the victims, to the universities (or research institutions) they work in, and to science in general. A system of measures, from compulsory re-education to disciplinary and economic sanctions, and up to removal from their position should be set in place inside their institution, and enforced, according to the gravity of the offence. This must be independent of criminal prosecution, which is a measure that can always be considered autonomously by victims or institutions, if they want so.

Institutions, universities and other research performing organizations (public and private), must set up codes of conduct, a venue for victims to report incidents, and a clear procedure for dealing with any occasion of gendered harassment and violence. They are responsible for creating a safe and respectful environment for all workers: students, early and late career researchers, technical and administrative staff. They must be held accountable if they fail in keeping a good environment and in addressing any problems in a timely way.

Society has learnt, in the last year or so, thanks to the #MeToo and the #NiUnaMenos movements, that women are to be respected as persons in all their aspects. Societal changes do not happen in one or two years, but, with the right instruments, they can occur and make human society a better place for all. Most people agree with the need for a change in the way women are considered, and a change in this direction can take hold in a relatively short time. This effort, however, must be embraced by all levels of society, and need the active involvement of all players, from politicians and policy makers, tomanagers and administrators, professors, researchers, teachers and the general population. Universities and research institutions can have a leading role in bringing about such change, which ultimately will go beyond codes and specific actions, and will imply a wider change in the relations among societal components, whether they are defined by sex and gender, or by any other feature, such as nationality, skin colour, religion or else.


The participants to the conference #WeTooInScience recommend that the EU institutions not only support the above described indications, but also ensure that they are effective and that their effect is measured and quantified, so that any adjustment that might be necessary can be rapidly set out. EPWS is willing to help and provide expertise, starting from the collection of the existing activities which have been deployed in many European and neighbouring countries. Donne e Scienza, together with other Women and science associations, may provide a first analysis of the above mentioned collection and, possibly, of the data collected.

EPWS and Donne e Scienza are indeed looking forward to collaborate with any EU body, in primis DG Research, that can work towards the goal of liberating research from harassment.


Pisa and Brussels, 14 November 2018

Sveva Avveduto, President, Associazione Donne e Scienza

Claudine Hermann, President, European Platform of Women Scientists EPWS




  1. Till, F. (1980) Sexual Harassment: a report on the sexual harassment of students. Washington, DC: National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs.
  1. Fitzgerald, L.F., Shullman, S.L., Bailey, N., Richards, M., Swecker, J. (1988) The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. Journal of Vocational Behavior 32, 152-175
  1. Johnson, P. A., Widnall, S. E. and Benya, F. F. Editors. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018, National Academy Press, Washington, DC USA.
  1. European Parliament 2014-2019 Plenary sitting A8-0265/2018 Report on measures to prevent and combat mobbing and sexual harassment at workplaces, in public spaces, and political life in the EU (2018/2055(INI)) Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A8-2018-0265+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN


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