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What does Policy refer to?

Policies cover a) policy frameworks, which refer to a coherent set of measures with a clear vision and comprehensive strategy that respond to incidents of gender-based violence in an integral and structured way, and b) policy documents which formalise explicitly and specifically the organisation’s commitment to ending gender-based violence.

Policies can take different forms, such as protocols, action plans, informative or explanatory documents, strategies, regulations, procedures and directives and may include definitions of the different forms of gender-based violence, codes of conduct, procedures for reporting and responding to incidents of gender-based violence, prevention measures, support services, training programmes, collaborations, evaluation and timelines, etc. A holistic policy document addresses all 7Ps.

An eligibility requirement for universities and research organisations wishing to participate in Horizon Europe is to have a Gender Equality Plan, and addressing gender-based violence is one of the key areas to be covered by such a mandatory plan. Gender-based violence policies can also be part of the organisation’s overall strategic plan to ensure alignment with the institutional goals and values.

How to approach Policy?

Setting up effective policies to address gender-based violence requires a comprehensive approach involving key elements and steps. Different ways exist to start a policy addressing gender-based violence. Here are some practical suggestions on how to set up well-functioning policies:

Existing legal background and policies

The institutional policies must align with any regional, national and/or European legal framework. Start by investigating the legal background at the national and European levels. At the European level, there are legal frameworks and policies that provide guidance on preventing and responding to gender-based violence. For example, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (known as the Istanbul Convention) provides a comprehensive legal framework for preventing and responding to gender-based violence and requires Member States to take measures to prevent violence, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators. UniSAFE has published an interactive map of laws and policies addressing gender-based violence which includes national reports, as well as an inventory of institutional policies for inspiration (find it here: Huck A., Andreska Z., Dvořáčková J. & Linková, M. (2022). UniSAFE D5.1 Inventory of policies and measures to respond to GBV in European universities and research organisations. Zenodo.

Institutional context and internal assessment

Having a good understanding of the institutional context is important, as it can affect the implementation of the policies. This includes the organisational structure, governance, culture, and resources. An internal assessment can help identify potential challenges or resistances to implementation, and determine how to address them. Important factors for effective implementation are leadership support and political willingness, a political-institutional context favourable to the recognition of gender-based violence and to addressing the problem, as well as specific gender and gender-based violence expertise among the units responsible for the policy’s implementation. For an effective internal assessment, read more in Prevalence and in the assessment framework developed by UniSAFE.


To ensure that the policy meets the organisation’s needs, defining and co-creating measures with stakeholders (such as students, researchers, faculty, staff, top and middle management and decision makers) is key to grasping the specific context and tailoring the policy to the community. This step will help identify the needs of the different institutional communities and groups to ensure an inclusive approach. It will also help promote transparency and accountability in policy design and implementation.


Setting up policies requires a variety of resources, from human resources to financial resources:

  • time and expertise, notably on, but not limited to, gender equality and gender-based violence;
  • funding for implementing training, awareness-raising, support services, collaborating with external experts and partners, incorporating communication tools, etc.

Monitoring and evaluation

Regular monitoring and evaluation of the policies and their implementation is needed to check their effectiveness. Qualitative and quantitative indicators will help measure the short and long-term impacts of the policies (see more in Prevalence).

Support and approval

The top management and organisational leadership must endorse and commit to policies on addressing gender-based violence. Effective policies are supported by the faculty and staff, the students and researchers, and other members of the organisation’s community.

Setting up a comprehensive policy framework addressing gender-based violence in academia: A step-by-step guide – UniSAFE

In the context of implementing a comprehensive policy framework against gender-based violence in academia, an action plan is a roadmap that provides a clear and detailed plan of actions on how to design, implement, enforce, monitor and evaluate such a policy framework. It should be comprehensive, realistic and flexible, with clear goals, roles, timelines and monitoring mechanisms to ensure its success. UniSAFE developed a guidance document that is particularly helpful for those who are at the beginning stages of creating and implementing a policy framework to prevent gender-based violence. It offers an excellent starting point, with clear and easy-to-understand instructions, and practical tips.

Tips and Hints / Dos and Don'ts

  • Make sure to address all forms of violence, including intersectional violence, in the policies;
  • Clearly establish the institutional values, including what is considered as transgressions or inappropriate behaviours, and define what gender-based violence is;
  • Ensure institutional policies are known by all members of the organisation. Plan and implement a clear communication strategy to give visibility to institutional policies, as this will support their effective implementation;
  • Develop policies that incorporate the organisation’s values and principles, and that consider the current challenges, while focusing on proactiveness rather than on reactiveness to gender-based violence. Draft the policy in clear language and include specific details that reflect its scope and purpose. Consider all the 7Ps for a holistic approach;
  • Locate the team coordinating the gender-based violence policies close to the top management or high in the institutional hierarchy. This ensures that the team has the necessary authority and access to resources needed to carry out its responsibilities effectively. It also demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to address gender-based violence, which can help generate additional support from other members.

Thinking intersectionally about Policy

Intersectionality aspects are still only scarcely considered in policies on gender-based violence. Here is what can be done:

  • Implement inclusive co-creation and participatory practices in the design of the policy;
  • Include clear statements in the institution’s policies about intersectionality to create a favourable environment for intersectionality also to be addressed in the implementation of measures. Guidance notes accompanying the policies could include case studies to show how intersectionality is relevant;
  • Professionals should be made aware that intersecting inequalities may influence the forms of violence that are enacted as well as their consequences on different people. How professionals approach people and ask questions should be sensitive to a spectrum of possibilities (e.g. LGBTQIA+ identities, religious norms or beliefs, earlier traumas, etc.).

Inspiring practices

Our Turn: Canadian student-led initiative to end sexual violence

The Canadian student-led initiative called Our Turn has published an Action Plan To End Sexual Violence. In this action plan, an assessment called the scorecard is included as an appendix “How to grade your own policy” with a set of statements under different categories (‘General’, ‘Scope’, ‘Composition of the Decision Maker(s)’, ‘Formal and Informal Complaint Process’, ‘Education’) with dedicated points. There is also a spreadsheet showing the scores of 15 Canadian universities.

Equally Safe in Higher Education Toolkit – University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom

As a free resource for Scottish universities working to prevent gender-based violence on their campuses, the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Toolkit was created at the University of Strathclyde by the ESHE project team, and funded by the Scottish Government. The ESHE Toolkit provides a practical collection of free materials and resources developed specifically for Scottish universities, which can be used as they are or adapted to suit individual institutions. The ESHE Toolkit covers research, policy, training, response, primary prevention, intervention, curriculum and knowledge exchange. A report from a policy development meeting at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, includes two case studies and guiding questions, which can be used as a basis for a discussion on policy development and improvement, and is available here.

Gender-based Violence Charter for colleges and universities launched across Scotland

The Charter was created between March 2020 and March 2021 after extensive research and co-creation across Scotland and the United Kingdom with hundreds of students, graduates, further and higher education staff, gender-based violence, and violence against women and girls (VAWG) professionals and other charity sector professionals working with ‘marginalised’ groups such as ethnic minority women, disabled students, and LGBTQIA+ youth. The ‘excellence’ section of the charter contains suggestions for possible interventions and innovative, inspiring ideas. Launched on 6th December 2021 as “a comprehensive, research-based guide to getting gender-based violence prevention, intervention and support right for every student”, the charter award involves:

  • Minimum standards in gender-based violence prevention, intervention, and support, asking institutions the question ‘would you have saved Emily’s life?’. This tier allows educational institutions to take the ‘Emily Test’ and achieve an award badge that they have ‘passed the Emily Test’;
  • Excellence awards in gender-based violence prevention, intervention and support, asking institutions the question ‘how would you have helped Emily to thrive?’. This tier moves beyond minimum standards, celebrating innovation and best practice, allowing institutions to submit their past, present and future excellence achievements to be included in a portfolio of excellence and, if the institution has already passed the Emily Test, be given an Excellence award addition to their badge.

Call for Action to End Gender-Based Violence by the EU Czech Presidency conference

Institutions can make their commitment visible by endorsing a Call for Action to End Gender-based violence. The specific call “Working towards Safe and Respectful Higher Education and Research for All” is an outcome document launched during the Czech Presidency conference Ending gender-based violence in academia: Toward gender-equal, safe and inclusive research and higher education organised by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic and the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences on 24 and 25 November 2022 in Prague. The full version of the Call for Action is available here, and the link to endorse it here.

Resources and further reading

UniSAFE – Webinar series on the 7P framework

Three webinars of about 90 minutes each introduce the 7P framework on addressing gender-based violence in research and academia, with inspiring practices presented from various institutions across Europe. Explore further.

UniSAFE recommendations for higher education and research institutions towards ending gender-based violence

This factsheet provides recommendations on the role of research and higher education institutions towards ending gender-based violence. Explore further

UniSAFE recommendations for staff associations and unions towards ending gender-based violence

This factsheet addresses staff associations and unions in higher education and research institutions. It provides recommendations on their role towards ending gender-based violence. Explore further

UniSAFE recommendations for student associations and unions towards ending gender-based violence

This factsheet addresses student associations and unions which bring together and represent students from higher education organisations and research institutions. It provides recommendations in relation to their role towards ending gender-based violence. Explore further. 

“Dignity and Respect” policy – Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

This policy sets out a framework for the resolution of any dignity and respect matters that may arise, and details the sources of help available to staff and students. The university promotes and encourages the resolution of dignity and respect complaints through informal means in so far as possible. Explore further.

How hiring policies can help end workplace harassment

This article was written by Emily Sohn. US institutions and states are revamping hiring practices in an attempt to increase transparency about past misconduct in academia. Explore further.

Social Safety in Dutch Academia – From Paper to Practice

Developed by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. A guide with recommendations and tips for preventing or tackling inappropriate behaviour at an early stage. Its purpose is to initiate a process for increasing social safety in Dutch academia. Explore further.

GEAR tool, European Institute for Gender Equality

The GEAR tool provides guidance, a step-by-step guide and a wealth of resources to set up a gender equality plan (GEP). Make sure your GEP includes specific policies addressing gender-based violence in your organisation to make it a safe place for all. Explore further.