On the 8th of February, 2023, the VMU Senate approved an important organizational document – The Description of procedure for prevention of sexual harassment and gender-based violence at Vytautas Magnus University. This document is an integral part of the university’s equal opportunities policies detailed in the VMU Strategic Plan for 2021-2027 and the Gender Equality Plan 2021-2025. Together, these important strategic documents mark the University's commitment to community cohesion and synergy, valuing the diversity of the community and the personal autonomy of its members, ensuring equal opportunities and non-discrimination, and highlighting the importance of dignity, respect and human rights.
Vytautas Magnus University has a policy on gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment
In 2021, a working group was set up by order of the Rector to develop the Gender Equality Plan and Sexual Harassment Prevention Measures. Led by Vilma Bijeikienė, Vice-Rector of Communication, the group comprised experts in various fields (psychology, law, gender studies), heads of departments and student representatives. As a part of this effort, three new posts were established: Community Coordinator, Equal Opportunities Coordinator and Disability Coordinator. The “Trustline” (pasitikejimo.linija[at]vdu.lt), a new reporting mechanism for any form of misconduct, was also launched. The Ethics Committee and Equal Opportunities Coordinator (currently, SPEAR project team member Laura Lapinske) have been tasked with spearheading institutional efforts to prevent sexual harassment. Regular training sessions have been conducted since the start of 2022, including the “Sexual harassment and its prevention: how to recognize and act?” program, several times throughout the year to different audiences within the university community The procedure for prevention of sexual harassment and gender-based violence at Vytautas Magnus university is a crucial document that outlines various forms and types of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. It serves as a vital tool for recognizing sexual harassment as a type of sexism that may involve abusive verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature towards individuals with whom one has a professional or other dependent relation. By clearly defining these terms and behaviors, the Procedure helps to establish a safer and more equitable environment for all members of the university community.
The document places a significant emphasis on preventive and educational measures related to sexual harassment, and it is a crucial part of the University's equal opportunities policy. Its focus is on preventing unethical behavior and improving organizational culture through education, awareness raising and self-development initiatives. The ultimate goal is to identify and prevent unethical forms of communication and behavior while fostering respectful relationships among members of the community to promote their psycho-social well-being. However, the document also outlines specific procedures for reporting and handling cases of sexual harassment. Reports can be handled in two ways: through a preliminary examination or by the Commission, which conducts a thorough investigation of the matter. Any member of the University community has the right to submit a report regarding sexual harassment or gender-based violence. This can be done by contacting the “Trustline” or by directly reaching out to the Equal Opportunities Coordinator or a member of the Ethics Committee. The University ensures the confidentiality of the complainant’s personal information and the circumstances described in the report. The responsible persons handle the case impartially, with promptness and provide the necessary support to the victim. It's important to note that in cases the Equal opportunities coordinator may initiate interviews with all the parties involved separately, act as a mediator in a dialogue, or have a meeting with the complainee, informing them of the potential consequences if similar misconduct were to continue. In more severe cases, the Commission may intervene. The document outlines the Commission’s thorough process for examining reports of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, which begins within 10 working days after receiving the report. The Commission reviews evidence, collects additional information, clarifies additional details and circumstances of the incident, conducts separate interviews with the victim and accused, and summons witnesses while maintaining confidentiality. Additionally, the Commission may seek assistance from specialists in areas such as employee protection, professional ethics, psychological health, equal opportunities, and other relevant fields. The document also specifies possible means of assistance to the victim, such as temporary leave from the workplace or study place, access to psychological counselling, and legal or financial support. Moreover, the Commission may take measures against the accused person, including disciplinary measures, providing training, or involving law enforcement agencies.
National and international context
The laws of the Republic of Lithuania oblige universities to implement gender equality policies and prevent gender-based violence. Article 26 of the Labor Code on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination on Other Grounds stipulates that "The employer must implement the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on other grounds. This means that direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and instruction to discriminate [on any grounds] are prohibited." Article 2.25 of the Civil Code defines the right to bodily inviolability and integrity. Article 1 of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Republic of Lithuania states that it is necessary to ensure that the equal rights of women and men enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania are implemented and to prohibit any discrimination based on a person’s gender. The Guidelines on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Handling of Cases prepared by the Lithuanian Rectors’ Conference in 2020 helped to formulate the procedures for VMU sexual harassment and gender-based violence prevention.
Considering the European context, several documents in the European Union are especially important, as they help higher education institutions to deal with sexual harassment and gender-based violence. For instance, The EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 confirms the commitment of the European Commission to do all it can to prevent and combat gender-based violence, support and protect victims, and hold perpetrators accountable. The EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027 addresses psychosocial risks in the workplace, including sexual harassment and violence. Starting in 2022, universities participating in the projects of the Horizon Europe (HORIZON) program must not only have gender equality plans but also implement anti-discrimination policies and prevent sexual harassment.
Please visit the VMU website to find the English version of the Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment.