Sexism and sexual harassment

What is sexism?

Sexism can be defined as any act, gesture, visual representation, spoken or written words, practice or behaviour based upon the idea that a person or a group of people is inferior because of their sex, which occurs in the public or private sphere, whether online or offline, with the purpose or effect of:

  • violating the dignity or inherent rights of a person or a group of people,
  • causing physical, sexual, psychological or socio-economic harm or suffering to a person or a group of people,
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment,
  • constituting a barrier to a person or a group of people’s autonomy and full realisation of their human rights,
  • maintaining and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

In its extreme form, sexism can encourage sexual harassment, rape or other forms of sexual violence.

Sexism is in no way tolerated at the University of Lausanne.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that is explicitly prohibited by the Swiss Gender Equality Act (GEA, art. 4).

Sexual harassment is harassing behaviour of a sexual nature or any other behaviour related to a person’s sex, which is unwanted by the person receiving it and which adversely affects their dignity. It can be based on sexual orientation (real or perceived) and gender identity. It is not determined by whether the perpetrator intends to cause harm, but by the fact that such behaviour is not wanted by the person who is subjected to it. 

Sexual harassment may be committed by members of staff, students or people outside the university. It may occur in a work or study environment or at events organised by the employer or by students. Electronic communications and private phone calls are also included.

Examples of sexual harassment

  • Sexist comments or jokes about sexual characteristics, sexual behaviour or sexual orientation
  • Inappropriate invitations for sexual purposes
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Displaying pornographic material
  • Sexual aggression, sexual coercion, rape or attempted rape
Flirting or harassment?

Sexual harassment is generally motivated by the desire to dominate and control, and has nothing to do with eroticism or sexual attraction. Sexuality is targeted because victims are especially vulnerable in this area. The demarcation line between flirting and sexual harassment is therefore clearer than it might seem at first glance.

The victim’s feelings prevail in qualifying sexual harassment, not the motivation of the perpetrator of the act. And a single occurrence is sufficient to qualify an act of sexual harassment.

Flirting... Sexual harassment…
is a mutual process is a unilateral approach
is fulfilling and stimulating  is degrading and hurtful
is wanted by both people is wanted by only one person
increases self-confidence undermines self-confidence
is a source of happiness is a source of annoyance
enhances day-to-day life at work poisons the atmosphere at work
respects personal boundaries violates personal boundaries

Are you a victim or witness of sexual harassment or sexism in your work or studies? Don't stay alone.


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