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 persons 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 inherent dignity or rights of a person or a group of persons;
  • resulting in physical, sexual, psychological or socio-economic harm or suffering to a person or a group of persons;
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment;
  • constituting a barrier to the autonomy and full realisation of human rights by a person or a group of persons;
  • 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 ). It is not tolerated at the University of Lausanne under any circumstances. 


Sexual harassment is harassing behaviour of a sexual nature or 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. 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.



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


Cyber-bullying involves repeatedly making threatening, hateful, insulting or degrading comments – either by using images or in writing – using communications technologies (social media, forums, text messages, chats or emails), with the aim of hurting, threatening, humiliating, ridiculing or excluding someone. Cyber-bullying can be a form of psychological harassment or, if there are sexual connotations, sexual harassment.


Examples of cyber-bullying

  • Insults
  • Threats
  • Sexist, racist, homophobic or similar remarks or jokes
  • Spreading false rumours
  • Distributing hurtful, fake or naked photos or videos
  • Creating fake profiles with hurtful content
Protection for victims

In case of sexual harassment, according to the Swiss Gender Equality Act (art. 10 para. 2 ), both people who bring legal proceedings and witnesses are protected from any retaliatory measures, in particular dismissal, throughout the proceedings (within UNIL and at court) and for six months afterwards.


Acts classed as proven sexual harassment can result in sanctions, ranging from a warning to termination of the working relationship.


The sanctions that can be imposed by the Disciplinary Council against a student or someone who has listener-only status are governed by the University of Lausanne Act (art. 77), which provides for a warning, suspension and exclusion.

Legal bases
Find out more