Are powerful women the answer to inequality?

  • December 11th, 2017
  • Blog

Earlier this year, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) released its 2017 Gender Equality Index. One of its more interesting findings (and there were many, as GenPol’s Antonia Sudkämper noted in her recent blog) was that in nearly all Member States, “the main driver of progress was improved balance in decision making”. In short: getting more women into power is important to improving women’s lives.

Why does having female decision-makers matter? Because women are hurt when we are not on an equal footing with men in the debating chamber, the meeting room, or the boardroom. Men are making decisions about women’s bodies, about our access to welfare, about whether we can have children, about whether we can not have children, about medical research that solely concerns us, about the media that we consume. Giving men decision making power over women feeds patriarchal structures. The extreme consequences of these structures are discrimination and violence against women: crimes of sexual violence stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another and society currently dictates that one group (men) have more power than another (women). This unequal distribution of power needs addressing urgently.

The EIGE Index suggests that one solution is to ensure that more women are involved in all manner of decision-making processes. Approached logically, if more women occupy political posts, then legislation which adversely affects women is less likely to be passed. If more mothers are in management positions, then the companies they influence are more likely to have parental leave and childcare policies favourable to women. If more women are driving the content of our mainstream media outlets, then we are more likely to hear diverse perspectives in our news analysis. The importance of representation is well documented, and powerful women are essential to creating societies that serve the interests of women, as well as men.

EIGE reports that the gender gap in employment is most pronounced across the EU in heterosexual partnerships. This is in part because women still bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities in society at large and thus are often the partner, in a heterosexual couple, to pull back professionally and take up the caregiving mantle. Would an increase of women in middle and senior management change this, by advocating for solutions for those women who wish to simultaneously become parents and pursue professional advancement? History tells us that it is certainly not men who will mobilise to pursue necessary workplace changes such as proper parental leave, adequate childcare, and teleworking facilities.

Even when women are present in the workforce, we need to consider where those women are. In the UK, women make up over 40% of those who work in the media, according to EIGE. These women, however, are mainly concentrated in lower grade positions, with lower pay and little influence (we saw this year just how stark that inequality is with the BBC pay scandal). Indeed, across Europe 67% of journalism graduates are women, yet just 14% of media CEOs are women. This means that crucial national conversations about politics, business, technology, and culture are shaped by men (the consequences of which are here clearly outlined).

Rank dynamics shine a further spotlight on the influence of men and their opinions in our lives. Men are higher up in the patriarchal rank: theirs are the voices of authority and responsibility, and it is the norm to prioritise their voices and to trust their expertise and testimony above women’s. This perception can only change if women’s voices are heard across public life, which can be achieved through elevating women to decision-making and influential roles.

All of the above, however, require powerful women to work in the interests of other women. Having women CEOs, politicians, and leading civil society actors will not make the world a better place for women if access to opportunity does not trickle down the hierarchy. Poland and Germany, for example, are both countries led by women and yet they rank below the average score for EU Member States in the EIGE Index. Indeed, in all six categories used to assess equality (Work, Money, Power, Time, Knowledge, and Health) Poland ranks below the EU average, as does Germany in three of those categories. Evidently one woman in a prominent political position cannot fix a country’s gender inequality problems, but women in power have the opportunity (and, I would argue, the responsibility) to empower other women and to set the direction for feminist policy reform across many areas of society. The Ivanka Trumps of this world tilt the gender balance scales simply by being women in power, but their presence alone does not help women as a social category, particularly those who are not white and upper-middle class. Given the stark inequalities women still face as an oppressed class of people today, and the intersecting oppressions faced by women of colour, lower-class women, and homo- or bisexual women, those with access to positions of power need to use their privilege to improve the lot of all women if patriarchal power structures are ever to be dismantled.

Women from diverse backgrounds need access to power en masse in order to move towards equality. As Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, notes, this is not about making women more like men, but “about creating an environment where both sexes can have equal choices and fully participate in social, work and family life.”

When women are not in power we cannot shape our own lives or the national narratives which govern us. The EIGE Index and its findings are pertinent, but we must also work to ensure that women who want to help women are given access to opportunity, and that all women can gain decision-making power so that all women benefit from the resulting progress

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

Three words, Two acronyms, One goal: Introducing PIÙ SANE and PREVENT

  • November 16th, 2017
  • Blog

(Picture Credits: Elyssa Rider)

Hot on the heels of our recent collaboration with German NGO Serlo to create an online course on consent  GenPol is extending its successful practices and research to Italy—one of the few European countries where sexual education is still not compulsory—with two exciting sister projects: PREVENT and PIÙ SANE.

PREVENT is an acronym for ‘PREventing Violence by Educating through New Technologies’ and ‘PIÙ SANE’, which means ‘healthier’ in Italian, stands for ‘Promoting, Teaching, Uniting, Health and Affectivity in Education’ (although its quality as an acronym is lost in translation). Both projects are united by the same aim: fighting sexual violence through education. More specifically, the feminine gendering of ‘PIÙ SANE’ points to both projects’ primary focus: tackling sexual violence against adolescent girls, “whose impact is particularly harmful since it may lead to impaired mental health, social functioning, and neurodevelopment.”

However, while our work aims to empower and educate women and girls as a means to tackling sexual and gender based violence, it will not be gender segregated and similarly aims to tackle toxic masculinity and open up conversations about the ways in which gender is socially constructed.

PREVENT and PIÙ SANE’s aims are to pursue specific forms of sex and relationship education, meant to promote women’s mental health and prevent social anxiety and other issues stemming from low self-esteem, as well as the difficulty to express one’s needs. The focus is primarily on the notion of consent, teaching how to express it, recognise it and always seek it in every single moment of a romantic or sexual relationship. The projects look to empower all, and especially young women, to set boundaries, speak out, respect and cherish not only others but first of all themselves.

Targeted specifically at the 12–25 age bracket, the idea is to make these educational materials as user-friendly, engaging and accessible as possible to our young, digitally-advanced audience. PREVENT and PIÙ SANE will thus be composed of multi-faceted digital educational modules, differentiated according to age group, including written materials, illustrations, videos, podcasts, interactive games and exercises. The materials will be freely accessible online through a brand-new website with its own mobile app. These materials will be promoted nationwide, across Italy, through a social media campaign (from Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and Youtube), ensuring maximal visibility amongst our target young age group. Guidelines and web-training will be created, additionally, to allow different categories of educators and teachers to use the materials in their own activities. As well as their online presence, the materials will be used and tested offline through a number of pilot projects across various Italian regions (Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Lazio and Campania).

GenPol will play a central role in the creation and distribution of digital modules, web-platforms and off-line pilot projects. We hope to launch the projects in June 2018, with a view to running them for 18 months. All the while GenPol will monitor  and evaluate its results and measure their impact and reach, with a view to developing future follow up projects, expansions and collaborations.

 Having successfully collaborated with organisations such as the aforementioned Serlo in Germany (an NGO working in the educational sector), and with Falling Book in Italy (a cultural association that uses gender education to tackle violence against women), GenPol is extending its work both within Italy and across Europe. The aim is to extend and build upon the work of PREVENT and PIÙ SANE, as well as GenPol’s work with Serlo, to create a multilingual, pan-European web-platform for consent education. In addition to the pilot projects across Italy, we are also setting up off-line projects across Europe, with the purpose of training and supporting local staff from countries as diverse as the UK, Romania, Poland, Malta, Germany and Ireland in the use of our platform in their own activities.

For now, if you would like a taster of what is to come, check-out our web-platform if you have not done so already. Please also  get in touch if you are engaged in any form of SRE or consent education, and might be interested in sharing good practices or future collaborations. Lastly—but certainly not least—stay tuned for the launch of PREVENT and PIÙ SANE in the new year.

Emmanuela Wroth
Research Associate

Progress, but slow: reflections on the 2017 Gender Equality Index

  • November 4th, 2017
  • Blog

This year, I was fortunate to attend the Gender Equality Index 2017 conference. The Gender Equality Index is a tool to measure the progress of gender equality in the EU, developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The Index has six core domains – work, money, knowledge, time, power and health – and two satellite domains: violence against women and intersecting inequalities. It gives more visibility to areas that need improvement and ultimately supports policy makers to design more effective gender equality measures. The results are updated and revealed every two years at an international conference.

Since the last index, the score has improved by 4 points and now lies at 66.2 points out of 100. The top performing country is Sweden with a score of 82.6, while Greece dropped to the bottom with 50 points. Italy recorded the biggest improvement. Overall, although the majority of Member States improved their overall scores from 2005 to now, nearly two thirds of them fall below the EU-28 average score.

A few things struck me as particularly noteworthy. Firstly, progress is way too slow. We cannot afford to miss out on women’s skills in the workplace for the next decades, and cannot afford men to suffer from the health consequences of toxic masculinity, either. We need to do better as soon as possible. Secondly, we often assume that we are continuously moving forward, but cannot take this for granted. We will only make progress if we constantly push for the cause. I was struck by low scores in some of the economically strong member states who are often praised for their well-functioning politics. Specifically, my own country Germany scored disappointingly low on many dimensions. As Ghandi put it, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Let us raise all countries to higher standards, and let us no longer accept that a society functions well only for half of the population.

In light of this, GenPol’s work (both past and forthcoming) feels all the more urgent, professionally and personally. Serlo, for instance, is a grassroots organization for education on sexuality and gender equality that originates in Germany but is gradually being expanded to other countries and languages. The platform’s aim is to enable personalized learning and to provide high quality educational resources free of charge. Similarly, the Italian organizations PREVENT and PIÙ SANE both aim to promote consent-aware sex and relationship education in Italy, as well as women’s self-esteem, empowerment and overall mental health. Considering the gender equality index dimension “violence against women” the Italian organisation Non Una di Meno might play a pivotal role in fostering increased scores. This network of feminist activists came together ahead of the planned ‘women’s strike’ for the 2017 International Women’s Day with a specific focus on the national problem of violence against women.

We must not underestimate the impact that these small organisations scattered across Europe might have on gender equality. By fuelling ideas and continuously pushing for change they might make fundamental contributions to an increase in the gender equality index scores. Non Una di Meno, for instance, vehemently pushes for cultural change to key areas such as education, legislation, media, and social support. Moreover, they make hands-on suggestion as to how to achieve this change (one of their latest projects concentrates on the revision of school books to remove gender stereotypes, for example).

Gatherings like the gender equality index conference certainly present a valuable meeting point for policy makers and activists with an interest in gender equality, and might function as an incubator for future initiatives across Europe. Indeed, the wealth of feminists from all over Europe was truly inspiring. We listened to Åsa Regnér, Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, who stated that we owe little girls that they will have the same chances as boys, and to Tiina Astola, Director-General, Directorate-General for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality at the European Commission, who pointed out that gender equality is not necessarily a linear process. And finally, Frans Timmermans, First Vice President at the European Commission, who closed the conference with a fantastic speech full of determination and encouragement to create a better future – an excellent example of a male ally. With an audience just as knowledgeable as the speakers, interesting discussions unfolded throughout the day. The speakers and the audience agreed that gender equality will be achieved through political decisions, allocation of resources, and a constant fight in public debates.

I am convinced that grass-root organizations, and think tanks such as GenPol will have an important role to play in these, and ultimately in improving the statistics for the Gender Equality Index 2019.

Antonia Sudkämper
Research Associate

A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on:

SRE provision in Europe: inconsistent, incomplete, but indispensable

  • October 20th, 2017
  • Blog

What do sex education and The Great British Bake Off have in common? They can both make us cringe, they can both teach us new concepts, but, most importantly, they can both be axed in a moment by the powers that be, leaving us with something vital to our livelihoods missing.

Unlike the Bake Off, leaving young people without sex and relationships education (SRE) can have serious societal implications. To quote the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “comprehensive sexuality education seeks to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality – physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships.” Comprehensive SRE, thus, recognises young people as sexual beings, gives them the opportunity to acquire essential life skills, and helps them to develop positive attitudes and values. Without classroom-based provision of such education, young people’s access to information on healthy relationships, pleasure, and sexuality can be warped or completely absent.

Reflecting its importance, SRE in some form is currently mandatory by law in 20 of the 28 EU Member States. Only Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and the UK do not count sex education among compulsory curriculum subjects (though the UK is in the process of making SRE a mandatory part of the national curriculum). However, mandatory inclusion of SRE in the curriculum is no guarantee of its quality, and the methods and actors involved account for a wide variation in sex education provision across the continent.

One of the most noticeable variations between Member States concerns the focus of SRE lessons. Most countries see sex education as an appropriate means of teaching young people about the biological elements of sex, and as a preventative measure to combat unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. This preventative focus (sometimes called ‘negative’ sex education due to its concentration on the risks of sexual activity) forms the baseline for much SRE content. In most of the countries in which SRE is taught, the subject is time-tabled into biology lessons and taught by a biology teacher, which indicates that its primary aim is to cover physical and reproductive bases.

Some European countries have built on this biological focus to teach the relational and social aspects of sexuality. The Nordic and Benelux countries, in particular, promote this more comprehensive approach to SRE, going beyond a mechanistic coverage of biological facts to deal with the psychosocial aspects of sexuality. Where this is the case, as in Sweden for example, SRE tends to be taught as a separate curriculum subject and can involve the input of actors external to the education system (such as NGOs) in subject delivery. The involvement of NGOs in SRE provision often signals a more interactive approach to sex education and can include activities such as sexual health seminars (Sweden), sexual health campaigns (the UK) and counselling (Germany). Research has shown that whilst formal, teacher-led learning remains common, young people have a preference for a more interactive approach, and sex education has been proven to be more effective and more comprehensive when it establishes links with local sexual health services.

So why does the legal status, content, and delivery of SRE vary between different Member States? Firstly, the realities of sex education in financial, legal and pedagogical terms are shaped by the social and political views of individual countries, which diverge greatly. SRE provision can change as political actors and their priorities change, and the funds needed for training teachers, involving external actors, and investing in resources can fluctuate depending on the political leadership of individual Ministries of Education, as can the pedagogical aims of sex education. The government department in which SRE is housed often reflects a country’s approach to the topic: in the Czech Republic, SRE is coordinated by the Ministries of Education and of Youth and Sports, demonstrating an emphasis on youth development, and in Finland, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is involved, bringing the aforementioned psychosocial and components to the fore, along with emotional health.

Attitudes to sex and to young people’s sexuality are another important factor influencing SRE provision. Socially and religiously conservative countries, such as Hungary or Slovakia, tend to adopt a risk-emphasising negative approach, without providing much space in young people’s education for discussions surrounding sexual orientation, pleasure, or healthy intimacy. Indeed, SRE in Catholic Slovakia adopts a religious approach: the focus is on marriage and parenthood, and it can be taught by religious leaders as part of religious education. Comparing the terminology used to refer to SRE in different Member States interestingly betrays their difference in ideological focus and social attitude. For example, the recent campaigns in the UK to make ‘Sex and Relationships Education’ a mandatory part of the curriculum demonstrate a desire to go beyond biology and include relational components in the teaching of this subject, whereas the labelling of sex education as ‘Family Life Education’ in some post-Soviet countries, including Poland, reflects a focus on reproduction and social structure, and does not address sexual rights or pleasure.


Further, irrespective of whether or not SRE is mandatory, the quality and content of SRE in any given Member State is nationally inconsistent. Factors such as the location and type of school (urban or rural area; state or private sector), the teacher (experience and personal views), the local health services involved, and the support of parents and local actors, all have an impact on what children and young adults are taught about sex and relationships.


What is the effect of such disparity in SRE provision across the EU, then? Though difficult to quantify, there are clear links to be made between societal attitudes to gender discrimination, and non-comprehensive or non-existent SRE. The patriarchal power structures on which European societies are built are challenged by education which encourages young women to see themselves as equals to men in sex and in relationships, and which encourage young men and women to engage with emotional and relational issues. Attitudes to violence against women are a case in point: marital rape, for example, is not criminalised in either Hungary or Slovakia which have, as mentioned above, biological, risk-focussed SRE. If young people are not educated (in or out of the classroom) on what egalitarian, healthy relationships look like, then inequality, harassment and even violence become less easily recognisable as wrong.

Outsde of the classroom, young people turn to the mainstream media and the internet (where porn is easily accessible) to learn about sex and relationships. Given the patriarchal norms and harmful gender roles broadly perpetuated by these institutions, comprehensive SRE can be very helpful in providing a counter balance to their influences. Sex education programmes should be made mandatory in all countries, and should be broadened beyond a purely public health function, to be holistic in scope; the opportunities provided by relational and psychosocial SRE provision to tackle gender inequality on many levels are too great to ignore. Like the Bake Off, our access to comprehensive SRE might be out of our hands, but unlike GBBO it is far too important to social progression for us to try and live without.

Nathalie Greenfield
Research Associate

Making love from the Mesolithic Age to the Greeks: learning about sex and relationships at the British Museum

  • September 22nd, 2017
  • Blog

In June 2017, the newly formed think tank GenPol brought together activists, academics and educators in a one day conference, to discuss how education can be used to tackle gendered violence. Among the many engaging topics and sessions, participants explored creative strategies for teaching sex and relationships education (SRE) to young people. We also heard from Alix Fox, a writer and sex educator who uses a range of media from podcasts to Youtube to reach out to her audiences, many of whom are young teenagers.

One of the more unlikely institutions developing its own creative approaches to SRE is the British Museum. Steeped in history, the museum is more strongly associated with Egyptian mummies than discussions around gender and sexuality. But while we may focus more on how the internet and smartphones are changing the way young people today experience sex and relationships, many of the questions and concerns we harbour have historical precedents. It was with this in mind that a team of committed educators at the museum took it upon themselves to incorporate SRE into the programme for secondary school visits. Last month, I sat down with Melany Rose, an education manager at the museum, and the brains behind the SRE workshops, to find out more.

The starting point for the project is a strong belief that museums ought to support schools in areas where the curriculum was found to be lacking. My main question to Melany centered primarily around that lack. What was absent, notably in countries in which SRE is still not compulsory?

Melany explained that the workshops – which are now a permanent offer at the museum – were developed in partnership with her friend Chloe Cooper, an artist educator. The first workshop, which was piloted during LGBT history month earlier this year, focused on issues such as same-sex relationships and queer identities. Following the success of the pilot, other thematic workshops exploring topics such as pornography and body image emerged.

The hands-on nature of the workshops, which not only involve handling historical objects from the museum’s collection, but also creating personal pieces of art in response, closely mirrors the format of the existing art and design workshops that Melany oversees. The content of the workshops was instead drawn from a book by a former British Museum curator, Richard B. Parkinson, titled A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the world (2013). In his book, Parkinson pulls out a number of objects from the collection to discuss how they portray things like same-sex desire and gender fluidity. The book has also provided inspiration for a current exhibit at the British Museum on Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LGBTQ Histories (ends October 15), marking fifty years since homosexuality was partially decriminalised in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act.

Like many of the GenPol conference participants, Melany described her own experiences of sex education at school as being “laughable at best.” At worst, for many young people in the UK, sex education is an uncomfortable hour or two, delivered by a reluctant and often unqualified teacher, if it is delivered at all. Melany suggested that taking sex education out of the classroom and into a different kind of formal learning environment, such as the museum, brings clear benefits not only to students but to teachers as well; both are reported to be more open to discussing and sharing personal experiences within the workshop setting, detached from the classroom environment.

What makes the workshops a success? “The objects and discussions are what lead the session”, Melany told me, “but it’s about good facilitation”. In order to prepare the artists delivering the workshops, Melany also worked closely with Brook, a sexual health charity who provide specialist training to teachers and educators. Having a team of trained professionals has been key to being able to deliver the programme in a way that is engaging while still being sensitive and age-appropriate.

One of the key themes of the GenPol conference was inter-disciplinary cooperation, and the importance of incorporating SRE into more areas of the curriculum than just biology. By addressing issues of gender and sexuality through history, culture and the arts, the workshops would appear to be doing a far better job of getting through to young people on these topics, by making them both accessible and relevant. The combination of teaching methods from the arts and humanities felt particularly refreshing, and no doubt more stimulating than a simply academic or ‘facts-based’ approach.

In addition to teaching young people about the meaning of gender, or the history of homosexuality, the workshops are also aimed at helping young people develop the critical thinking skills which are increasingly needed to navigate a media-saturated world.

Although it may have earned her some dubious press coverage, Melany described a sense of achievement in establishing the programme, despite the initial difficulties of getting schools interested. Once past the initial stumbling blocks, however, it attracted almost 300 students in its first year, and over 250 students have already been booked in for the autumn 2017 term alone.

Melany stressed that the workshops are designed to supplement an existing SRE programme, rather than provide it.  It is more a “window into a topic” which teachers are encouraged to follow up on once back in the classroom. Looking ahead to 2019, when SRE is due to become compulsory in the UK, there is perhaps hope that teachers will find they are already being supported to deliver impactful SRE by other educational institutions.

While learning about sex surrounded by objects from another millennium might feel a bit like getting tips on how to ‘do it’ from your grandmother, there’s a surprising amount to be learned about sex, sexuality and gender from these historical objects – not least that our societies are far, far less open and accepting than we might have thought possible.

Giulia Nicolini
Guest Writer and Researcher


An invisible problem: the data vacuum on gender-based violence in Europe

  • September 11th, 2017
  • Blog

cn: sexual assault, intimate partner violence, harassment, violence against women.

Over 61 million European women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Violence against women (VAW) presents a serious violation of human rights that is horribly widespread across the EU. Article 3a of the Istanbul Convention defines VAW as “all acts of gender-based violence that result in or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women.” VAW takes many overlapping forms; sexual assault, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, intimate partner violence, and sexual harassment just some examples, and such forms of violence are primarily (re)inflicted on women by men in order to (re)establish male social, economic, and political power.

Recognising that VAW is a widespread and direct violation of the EU Charter of fundamental rights with respect to dignity and equality, the EU is starting to pursue more substantial research in this field. Understanding the nature and scope of VAW in Europe is essential to tackling it, and to reinforcing and supporting the life-changing work that women’s organisations have been undertaking for many years through governmental work. The true extent of male violence against women across Europe, however, remains foggy.

Current data paints a picture of extensive abuse in Europe: over a third of adult women experience some form of sexual and/or physical violence at least once in their lifetimes. Over one in five experience violence at the hands of their intimate partner, over one in twenty is raped at least once, and over one in ten girls experience sexual violence before the age of 15. Very sadly, however, these numbers remain conservative estimates; the reality of the scale of VAW in Europe is likely to be much broader than current data suggests. A recent study conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) found that only “one in three victims of partner violence and one in four victims of non-partner violence report their most serious incident to the police or some other service.” Data collection problems prohibit detailed comprehension of VAW in the EU.

One of the most serious obstacles to the gathering of accurate data is systematic under-reporting of male violence. Fear of reporting, often compounded by a lack of trust in the police and judicial systems, contributes to this. The FRA recently found that one in four victims of sexual assault does not contact the police or any other organisation because of feelings of shame, embarrassment, or self-blame, and complementary to these findings, a recent report by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) linked low confidence in the police to low levels of reporting of gender-based violence. As an example, studies in Finland indicate a higher than average trust in the police (94% of the population trust the police in Finland compared to 70% across the EU), and higher than average reporting of sexual harassment (71% of women have reported experiencing sexual harassment, compared to 55% across the EU). Evidently, a large proportion of women who experience VAW do not speak of their experiences, and do not come into contact with national justice systems or social services; the crimes committed against them go unrecorded and ignored.

Perhaps most importantly though, recognising physical or sexual violence as violence remains a barrier to reporting. Legal definitions of violence contribute to what is societally categorised as violence, as is the case with marital rape, which is not criminalised in all EU Member States(1), or sexual harassment, which is not always legislated on. Consequently, instances of such violence often go unreported and overlooked. Even where violence is legislatively understood as such, though, cultural, religious, and societal norms can still prevent it from being recognised as criminal, and therefore in need of reporting. Patriarchal ideas in the individual and societal consciousness about the place of men and women, and their respective rights and freedoms, can influence what is considered normal behaviour, particularly in domestic relationships; these attitudes can have a vital impact on recognising, and thus reporting, violence.  

Socio-cultural factors can also influence whether reporting violence is considered appropriate, or even possible. Cultural taboos can prohibit speaking about experiences of violence with authority figures, or even friends and family, especially in the case of intimate-partner violence. For a variety of reasons, women may not feel comfortable or safe disclosing violence. As noted by the non-profit network Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE), “the unequal power relationship between men and women, which is the root cause of violence, is also a barrier for reporting.”

So what are the implications of these obstacles to the collection of data on VAW? The above-mentioned interlinked factors that contribute to systematic under-reporting lead many studies into VAW to fall short of capturing the true extent of the problem. A nuanced top-down approach is needed to complement and reinforce the ground work that is being done by organisations and individuals across the EU, and policy is informed by data. Knowing the scope of violence against women therefore appears an obvious, though complex, element in tackling such violence; if we do not understand the nature of women’s realities then how can national and international organisations work for long-lasting and significant change?

NGOs working to provide services for victims of VAW offer hope for more accurate and comprehensive data collection, but their scope is often regional in focus and the information they provide varies as a result. Filling the informational void on the extent of VAW is an urgent task, and is a necessary part of a wider push in Europe to combat gender inequality at all echelons of society. Continuing efforts to address the range of economic, political and social power inequities felt by women (including rendering national systems fit for purpose) through both top-down and bottom-up approaches, are thus vital in encouraging women’s voices to be heard on their experiences of violence. Only then can we truly understand and address violence against women in Europe.


Nathalie Greenfield

Research Associate


(1) Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia are all yet to criminalise marital rape.

‘Can education stop abuse?’ Conference Programme

  • June 15th, 2017
  • Blog

GenPol and the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation are excited to share the final programme of the forthcoming conference ‘Can education stop abuse?’

Conference Programme

Saturday 24th June from 9:00

Location: Judge Business School. Please follow signage to the lecture room.


9:30 – 9:00 Registration
9:00 – 9:15 Welcome and introduction: Dr Lilia Giugni (GenPol & Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation) and Dr Neil Stott (Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation).
9:15 – 10:15 Group presentations “Sex and relationship education and gender-based violence: the state of the field”, chaired by Prof. Paul Tracey (Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation).
10:15 – 11:15 Group presentations “Sex and relationship education across institutions: good practices and innovative tools”, chaired by Mark Goodson (Cambridge Social Ventures).
11:15 – 11:45 Tea/coffee break
11:45 – 12:45 Key note panel: Norah Al-Ani (Cambridge Crisis Rape Centre), Dr Kerrie Thornhill (University of Oxford), Dolly Ogunrinde (Into University).

12:45 – 13:45 A complimentary sandwich lunch is served on site.

13:45 – 14:45 Group presentations “An intersectional approach to the study of SRE and gender-based violence”, chaired by Kate MacLeod (Estelle Levin Ltd).
14:45 – 15:45 Group presentations “Preventing violence: insights from the study of masculinities and online abuse”, chaired by Stefan Theil (University of Cambridge)
15:45 – 16:15 Presentations’ wrap up
16:15 – 17:15 Round table: Ky Hoyle (Sh! Women Erotic Emporium), Alix Fox (Guardian), Pavan Amara (My Body Back Project), moderated by Dr Lilia Giugni.

17:15 – 17:30 Concluding remarks: Dr Lilia Giugni, Dr Neil Stott & GenPol team.

Conference Dinner

After the conference, from 6:30pm, participants are invited to join us for dinner at Westcott College, one of central Cambridge’s hidden gems.

International Conference – 24th June: “Can Education Stop Abuse? Approaches To Tackle Gender-based Violence”

  • June 13th, 2017
  • Blog

“Can Education Stop Abuse? Approaches To Tackle Gender-based Violence”

International Conference

Saturday June 24th, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge


Comprehensive sex and relationship education is increasingly regarded as crucial to counteracting gender-based violence. Recent research conducted across the globe shows that young people who participate in good quality SRE programmes are more likely to make autonomous, informed and healthy decisions about their sexual lives (Advocates For Youth, 2009; Sex Education Forum UK, 2015). However, successfully delivering educational tools, especially when incorporating a specific focus on the themes of gender, informed consent and every form of violence and discrimination, often eludes policy-makers and other stake-holders.

Furthermore, it is also a challenge to develop high quality guidelines and training programmes specifically tailored to the personnel of organisations whose work intersects matters of gender and gender-based violence. For example, in recent years there has been a concerted effort within law enforcement agencies to develop effective educational programmes to help their staff to deal with gender-based violence and, more broadly, the ways in which matters of gender influence their activities (NATO 2015; UN Women 2015).

GenPol and the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation invite you to an exciting day of debates, panel discussions, networking, and key notes. This conference will bring together a wide range of participants from different nationalities and backgrounds, including researchers, educators, therapists, legal experts, social and media entrepreneurs, civil servants and representatives from a variety of institutions. Topics of discussion include consent, successful sex ed programmes, disability and gender-based violence, online abuse, and a conversation on masculinity. By fostering a fruitful dialogue between experts and practitioners in the field, we aim to identify both a clear theoretical framework and effective practical resources for different institutional audiences.


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The academy and everyday sexism: can we ‘undo’ gendered biases?

  • June 13th, 2017
  • Blog

To female students and faculty members alike, sexism in academia is often a big, uncomfortable elephant in the room. The problem is a complex and multifaceted one, but two aspects are particularly worthy of attention.

A more inclusive academy?The first concerns inclusivity and the actual access of women, as well as other historically discriminated against categories, to high education and high profile academic positions. The other refers to the multiple, subtle forms of everyday sexism that permeate most academic settings.

Despite the undeniable progress of the last few decades, there is evidence that numerous professional and personal challenges still affect the lives of women, and especially those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, within academic communities. These include very tangible issues such as the gender-based pay gap, the way in which the current publication culture [1] makes it hard to reconcile professional and family life, as well as the gendered biases influencing the evaluation of female faculty’s performances [2]  documented by many recent studies [3].

However, issues of confidence, impostor syndrome [4], and above all the lack of adequate role models [5] that may act as mentors or sponsors for young female students and researchers, also play a key role. This is particularly evident in systems like Oxbridge, where, with the only exception of women’s only colleges, a young female undergrad, let alone a non-white or disable one, walks every day into a dining hall packed with portraits of old, white, upper-class men, none of whom remotely looks like her.

Furthermore, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based abuse are sadly still too common in university life. In the UK, for example, a nation-wide study recently published on the Guardian [6] shows how poorly assault on campus is dealt with by the competent British authorities, making universities an unsafe, hardly welcoming place for young women.

Constructing and performing gender in academic life

Yet there is a second, perhaps less obvious dimension of the problem, which lies in the manifold ways in which, through our own daily interactions, we ‘do’ and ‘perform’ gender in academic life. These also encompass forms of latent, perhaps ‘benevolent’ [7], but still deeply harmful, sexist behaviour.

Patterns of gendered and sexist practices emerge very clearly from the hundreds of stories that colleagues, friends and students of mine shared with me throughout my years as a student first, and a researcher and member of staff later. Women’s personal experiences may vary slightly from country to country, from university to university, but it is impossible not to notice the common traits.

In my native Italy, for instance, I often found that everyday ‘academic’ sexism has more to do with the pervasive patriarchal dynamics that pervade the society in which Italian universities are enmeshed, rather than with specific institutional features. However, once I moved to Cambridge – where feminism is a powerful, strong presence on campus and so many female undergrads are extraordinarily, almost painfully aware of the barriers they face – I was struck by a consideration. What Cantabrigian women, of every age and position, seem to fight against is the very structure they are a part of. One which, centuries ago, was specifically designed for the benefit of white, privileged men.

Again, there are the portraits in Oxbridge colleges’ dining halls [8]. There is, too, a certain traditional ‘Oxbridge’ writing and debating style, based on assertiveness [9] and the capacity to stick to a central argument, which numerous women feel uneasy with. On the other hand, uncountable female students openly admit preferring a more nuanced way of writing, one able to do justice to the complexity of a topic and juxtapose different view-points. Unsurprisingly, they report feeling forced not to be true to themselves during tutorials, examinations or lectures, and struggling to find their identity as writers and researchers.

Everyday ‘academic’ sexism, when it comes to faculty staff, can also come in the form of our current understanding of leadership [10], and the dominant narratives on what high profile academics should be and do. For example, regarding rational decision-making, assertiveness, risk-taking and other elements normally associated with masculinity as essential to achieve leading academic positions, is no doubt a gendered and discriminatory tendency. And let us not forget that women academics who, for a reason or another, chose to showcase traits identified as masculine, are often blamed for being bossy, irascible, and difficult to be managed. In a context shaped by gendered stereotypes, there is often little space for building positive, and genuine, ‘feminine’ models.

Our power to ‘undo’ stereotypes

There is, however, something empowering in coming to see gender as a set of practices and conventions that are ‘done’ and ‘performed’ daily, through the very way we interact with each other. This means, in fact, that we can make a pledge to ‘undo’ gender, or at least damaging gendered stereotypes, in our personal everyday lives.

Quotas and other forms of positive discrimination in high education, as well as programmes encouraging young women’s access to STEMs or prestigious educational programmes [11], are all policy choices I wholeheartedly agree with. My point, though, is that this is a battle we can only win by bringing concerns related to gender (and its intersections with race, disability, sexual orientation and class) into our mainstream conversations. In other words, honest talks recognising the specific challenges faced by women and other discriminated against groups need to regularly take place at every stage of academic life. Between supervisors and their supervisees, college tutors and their students, and of course among peers and female members of staff. Mental health, as well as issues of visibility and harassment, must be at the very centre of this dialogue. Similarly, young women need to be provided with safe spaces to address these concerns. They need to be put in touch with adequate role models, inspirational figures who actually look like them and are able to empathise with their difficulties, and who can act for them as sponsors outside the room.

Rome was not built in a day, and this is a long-term fight, but openly recognising conflicts based on gender and other causes of inequality, rather than trying to silence them, is most certainly a way to start.

-Dr Lilia Giugni, Teaching Associate at CJBS and CEO and co-founder of GenPol


[1] “The gender bias in peer reviewing reveals the sexism in academia“, Quartz, 25 January 2017
[2] “Female academics face huge sexist bias – no wonder there are so few of them“, Guardian, 13 February 2015
[3] “Gender bias in academe: an annotated bibliography of important recent studies“, LSE Impact Blog, 8 March 2017
[4]  The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: dynamics and therapeutic intervention, Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, 15(3), Fall 1978
[5] “Young women need female role models to inspire success“, Guardian, 22 October 2014
[6]Universities ‘actively covering up’ sexual assault and harassment, report says“, Guardian, 27 February 2017
[7] “The academics tackling everyday sexism in university life“, Guardian, 24 February 2015
[8]Oxford University replaces portraits of male alumni as part of diversity project“, Independent, 4 July 2016
[9] “The impact of conversational style on girls’ learning“, Dangerous Women Project Blog, 10 July 2016
[10] “Gender bias in leader selection“, Strategy+Business, 23 December 2010
[11] Stem Women network:

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