New student initiative Nouvelle WAG wants to identify the current situation regarding sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) at WUR and in Wageningen. They also have a plan for prevention and response measures.
‘We have been hearing multiple accounts of sexual violence and harassment at WUR’, says Dawn Cheong, PhD candidate Rural Sociology from South Korea. ‘They range from cat calling to commenting on somebody’s body to asking sexual questions to unwanted sexting to stalking to physical violence. Both men and women can feel extremely uncomfortable in these situations. With our survey, we want to get an idea of the SGBV-situation in Wageningen.’
‘Dutch people have a very strong belief that the Netherlands are very gender equal’, says Cheong. ‘In reality, most indicators prove otherwise. In the Netherlands, there is gender discrimination and a gender pay gap. According to European Union survey about violence against women, almost half of Dutch women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, which is higher than the EU-average. A quarter of Dutch women experiences sexual violence in a relationship. And 73 percent of Dutch women experienced sexual harassment. Only 20 percent of the cases were reported.’
These issues also exist in the academic world, says Cheong. ‘According to a report commissioned by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH, red.), 91 percent of harassment in academia is done by professors and supervisors; 78 percent of perpetrators are men. This can include scientific sabotage, sexual harassment, physical and verbal threats, denigration and exclusion. Victims that report these issues, often receive no help.’ Cheong also refers to recent research by I&O Research for Amnesty International, which found that 11 percent of Dutch female students experiences rape in their student life.
Harassment in academia includes scientific sabotage, sexual harassment, physical and verbal threats, denigration and exclusionDawn Cheong, PhD candidate Rural Sociology
Every year, there is a survey on working conditions in the social sciences group. Cheong: ‘The 2020 report showed that 19 percent of the social sciences group employees have experienced undesirable behavior including sexual harassment. The year before that was 13.7 percent, so it increased. Only very few cases were dealt with in a satisfactory manner.’
Currently there is no WUR-wide survey focused on SGBV which includes all students and employees. Cheong: ‘That makes it difficult to understand the full extent of the problem and its structural dimensions. So we—Nouvelle WAG—made our own survey to map out the SGBV situation.’
Identification, prevention, response
While the survey is still open, Nouvelle WAG already has a plan for steps that should be taken at WUR. Cheong: ‘We have three objectives, of which the first one is to map out the SGBV situation at WUR. We are doing that as we speak with the survey. Our second objective is preventive measures. Right now, they don’t exist here. There should be introduction courses on SGBV for all new students, PhD candidates and employees. For example, we could show new students a video about consent during the AID-week.’
Our goal is to institutionalize the preventive and responsive measures
‘The third objective is to improve the response measures, by ensuring a clear and easy reporting process with a hotline via phone and email and an appointed SGBV-counselor to talk to. We have conducted a rapid assessment on the current response measures provided by the university. There are some responsive measures in place, but they vary from department to department. Our goal is to institutionalize the preventive and responsive measures.’
WUR is currently a partner in the Gender-SMART consortium and has committed to work on gender equality. ‘It is a good thing that WUR is working on this and that they have a plan’, says Cheong. ‘However, we believe that when the initiative starts from the students—the primary users of the university—more realistic and practical solutions for a safer study and work environment can be achieved.’
Responding to the initiative, the university spokesperson says that WUR has been working for some years on being an inclusive and safe university where everyone can be themselves. ‘Getting a picture of SGBV is one aspect of creating an inclusive environment for work and study. Within WUR, various working groups are collaborating with parties such as Nouvelle WAG on inclusiveness. We warmly invite Nouvelle WAG to come and talk to us.’