Home>Exploring Horizons: A European Outlook on Gender Based Violence


Exploring Horizons: A European Outlook on Gender Based Violence

Sciences Po and Université Paris Cité have come together to conduct a shared Excellence Initiative (IdEx) research study among their student population on the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Titled SAFEDUC, the research is taking place under Sciences Po’s Gender Studies Programme, and aims to collect prevalence data in order to map the living experiences of university students. It is conducted via an anonymous online survey accessible to all students at both institutions from March 25th to May 19th, 2024. During Spring 2024, Eva Oliva, a member of the Centre for Gender and Science of the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, joined the project as an intern. 

Why were you interested in joining the SAFEDUC research project?

There were many complementary reasons why I wished to join the SAFEDUC project. I knew that Sciences Po has put a lot of emphasis on the topic of gender-based violence in the last couple of years. So the first reason would be really learning from an example from abroad and from people who focus on it in an environment which is more open to a discussion about this kind of issue. Of course this topic creates tensions, misunderstandings and lots of pain no matter where it is brought up. In the Czech Republic, where I am from, the topic of gender-based violence has been openly raised as an issue only in the last three or four years. I mean, scholars in the field of gender studies, sociology and anthropology would encourage the need to focus on this issue much earlier. In 2008 there has been first study done on the prevalence of sexual harassment in Czech universities, yet there was a backlash from the higher education authorities. It was impossible to talk about sexual and gender-based violence at that time, or about the misuse of power in the academic environment for that matter, so the topic went kind of silent. Mainly as a result of the students’ initiatives and, sadly, the ongoing cases and experiences of harassment and violence, also the following mediatisation and public pressure, as well as the introduction of the gender equality plans as a requirement for the European funding programme Horizon Europe, things began to change. Institutions now know they must not close their eyes, they should talk about it and set effective measures of prevention, protection and solution; we need to know what kind of misbehaviour students and staff members are facing and from that on we can build effective evidence-based policies.

So coming back to my point: SAFEDUC is a research project which conducts a prevalence study on gender-based violence in a very interesting setting – focusing on two big French universities at once. I wanted to see how it is done, what are the methods and practices of collecting this kind of data, to see the process from within and of course be useful in bringing the knowledge acquired from my work on this topic from the Czech context. My other motivations were simply personal: I wanted to try to work abroad and was driven to a French-speaking country as I wish to learn French – well there is still a long way to go. 

You have previously been part of the UniSAFE European project. Could you tell us more?

I personally was not a member of the UniSAFE team but institutionally my department was a member in the European consortium and contributed to the research as well as the project deliverables. UniSAFE was a three-year EU-funded project (2021-2023), which was to map the prevalence of gender-based violence in higher education and research institutions on the European level. It is so far the biggest European study conducted in 14 languages, among 46 academic institutions in 15 countries, with over 42,000 respondents.

There is a general lack of prevalence data of gender-based violence in academia: UniSAFE was really to bring numbers and show how large is the prevalence of gender-based violence in European research performing organisations, how big of an issue it is, how it affects people on personal and communal levels, also how it is affected by specific organisational structures and hierarchies, and if the EU states have the adequate legal or policy frameworks to bring institutional change. With the prevalence study results it was further possible to articulate what kinds of forms of violence can emerge in academia – that I see as very important because before if something happened it would be often put on some kind of “personal feeling” that something is not right and taken seriously, or there was this pressure of an individual responsibility of saying no to some behaviour. Now we know, and it is becoming more and more socially accepted, that there are situations of misbehaviour, often due to the power disbalances, that are very difficult to deal with as in academia many people are in positions of some sort of dependency. Now it is possible to use this mapping as a shared vocabulary which also further allows to point out the seriousness of the behaviour in question and for instance apply adequate sanctions. For that reason the study results were then translated into policy recommendations and to a very complex toolkit. As for myself, I was a person who helped to transfer these project outcomes on the Czech institutional level, 

A new European project kicked off in March 2024, called GenderSAFE. What can we expect? 

As UniSAFE provided the data, it was a logical next step to use them as bases for creating solid policies which should be implemented in order to combat gender-based violence and other forms of misbehaviour; meaning also bullying, bossing, mobbing and so on. The follow-up project GenderSAFE really advances efforts to implement a zero-tolerance approach to gender-based violence in higher education and research in the European Research Area. Its overall objective is to contribute to building a safe, inclusive, and respectful academic environment through building capacities, through mutual learning and exchange, setting up instruments to monitor the policies that are in place, or to establish more efficient ones. This should be done mainly through a five-fold strategy including

  1. increasing robustness of zero-tolerance policies by building a common policy discourse in the EU reflecting theoretical debates which includes attention to power, intersectionality, mobility and precarity,
  2. facilitating the uptake and ownership of a zero-tolerance approach to gender-based violence policies through creating a Community of Practice, involving multiple circles of various types of stakeholders,
  3. building institutional capacities to set up and implement gender-based violence policies through training of responsible staff and officers,
  4. creating a knowledge base on the uptake and contents of zero-tolerance policies at academic institutions through data collection and monitoring system, and
  5. raising awareness and creating uptake through carefully designed communication, dissemination and advocacy activities.

Throughout March and April, you interviewed the SAFEDUC project’s Steering Committee members. What would be your feedback about this series?

It was a real pleasure to have a chance to sit down and talk with everyone involved in the project about their professional and personal approaches to the topic. As I had a chance to work closely with Clara, Victor and Violette, there was already a pre-understanding of where you were all standing and also what kinds of challenges you were facing – and let’s say there was a lot. I think that each of the interviews shows how complex the issue of gender-based violence in academia is and that it requires a lot of different perspectives to be taken into account. It shows that there needs to be proper theoretical knowledge brought into such a project, including the gender and social inequality issues, and also the proper research methods; for that reason Marta with her sociological research experiences plays a crucial role in the project. Joëlle with her institutional role of a vice-president for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at Université Paris Cité is an important ally for the study to be supported by the university’s administration, and her own research focusing on health and prevention is extremely important for the link between the people at risk and efficient measures to help to prevent such behaviour taking place. The study would be impossible without the data analysis expertise of Victor and Clara, but also their deep understanding of gender social roles and how that can create violence prone environment. Without Hélène and Virginie as the two directors of the project no SAFEDUC would exist without their ability to acquire funding and without their institutional positions through which they could enforce the project to happen; not to forget their expertise in the field of gender inequality, economics and social psychology. And of course that there is so much coordination and communication required for the project to hold together, especially when two big institutions are involved, for that reason Violette is the glue and a key element of SAFEDUC. So the interview series hopefully shared necessary information for the students who are the main target group of the study, but hopefully it also showed the care and work which was and still is put into the project; not to mention the legal and ethical committees involved in the process, as well as the support of other research teams from other institutions and other studies which were inspirational for the SAFEDUC to come to its existence.

What’s next for you?

As my internship at Sciences Po ends at the beginning of May, I am returning to Prague to re-join my team. We have a lot to handle with our ongoing projects focusing on the cultural and institutional change regarding gender equality at our academic institutions. One task I keep in mind very strongly is that we are currently creating a Code of conduct, reporting system and a protocol for solving cases of gender-based violence on the level of the whole Czech Academy of Sciences. With a team of colleagues from different departments and scientific fields we want to ensure that, as a leading scientific institution in the Czech Republic, we collectively represent values of safety and care, and are simply creating a space where truly everyone is welcomed, heard, respected and can conduct their academic work freely.

On a more personal note, I have had doubts if I wished to continue my studies and seek the doctorate. Working on topics of systematic inequalities, linked symptoms of violence, as well as the precarity that some people in academia must face – all of that can be demotivating when deciding if a person wants to stay in. Yet, I must admit that the experience of staying with the SAFEDUC team for the last three months, meeting new people again with the same passion and dedication, I have come to terms that this is just something I want to keep on doing and that this focus is my place to be. So now I will start to work on my doctoral proposal and see if I can make it work. I think I will try to pursue an international cotutelle, and in the best possible scenario I will be able to stay both in Prague as well as coming back to Paris again, let’s see!


  • Learn more about the SAFEDUC project and, if you are a student from Sciences Po or Université Paris Cité, take the survey.
  • Read other interviews on the SAFEDUC research project:
    • with the research project's principal investigators Hélène Périvier and Virginie Bonnot.
    • with researchers Clara Le Gallic-Ach and Victor Coutolleau explaining the challenges they faced and why all students should fill in the questionnaire.
    • with sociologist Marta Domínguez Folgueras, an Associate Professor of Sociology working at Centre for Research on Social Inequalities at Sciences Po (CRIS) on the connections between violence, power and social hierarchies.
    • with Université Paris Cité Public Health Professor and Vice-President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Joëlle Kivits, on violence prevention.

Cover image caption: Eva Oliva, Erasmus + intern (credits: VT / Sciences Po)

Contact us

For all requests relating to the program, please write at: presage@sciencespo.fr.