Long-term work on gender equality is the only way to put an end to sexual harassment, according to Alice Marshall, Gender Equality Officer, and Anna Wahl, Vice President for Gender Equality. (Photo: Susanne Kronholm)

MeToo – but what now?

Published Nov 22, 2017

“Not in the least bit surprised”, or “Surely this kind of thing doesn’t happen to my friends?” Consternation, anger and recognition. The reactions vary, but no-one is left unaffected. MeToo breaks down a taboo and shines the spotlight on gender inequality.

Chaitanya Tendolkar, THS.

At KTH, along with everywhere else, the MeToo campaign’s revelations have engaged, upset and caught people unaware.

“It’s a bit like with road accidents – you just don’t think it’ll happen to you or your friends. I was alarmed when I saw how many, including friends from home, had written accounts under #MeToo,” says Chaitanya Tendolkar, Head of Student Welfare at THS, the Royal Institute of Technology’s student union.

One person who is not surprised is Anna Wahl, Vice President with responsibility for gender equality and values.

“Not a bit. This happens everywhere in male-dominated industries. And it’s important to understand that it’s not a case of one or two rotten eggs. Sexual harassment is a manifestation of gender inequality, it just wouldn’t exist in an equal environment.”

Anna Wahl believes the only way to effect lasting change and put an end to sexual harassment and violation is to engage in long-term, structured gender equality work.

“MeToo lessens the taboo associated with talking about sexual harassment, and that’s really important. But it’s not enough. The interesting thing is what happens now, what changes are going to take place?”

Contact with the right people

KTH’s responsibility for the students includes investigating and addressing cases of discrimination, harassment and discriminatory treatment that might occur in connection with their education.

“In the first instance, the union can help by putting people in touch with the right person within KTH’s organisation. We can also move the case forward if the person affected is reluctant to contact KTH themselves,” explains Chaitanya Tendolkar.

He points out that the student union’s gender equality work begins as soon as students join KTH, during inductions for new students. The union also organises meetings to bring together each chapters’ gender equality coordinator for discussions on work relating to equality, diversity and equal treatment (JML).

But when it comes to individual cases, the central union management is rarely involved. It is normally the local chapter that supports the student affected. So far Chaitanya Tendolkar, who took on his role in the summer, has not had to manage any cases of sexual harassment.

David Pettersson.

However, his predecessor, David Pettersson, has been involved in some cases.

“It’s hardest when something has happened between two students. If a lecturer has harassed a student, there’s always a manager to turn to. If it’s between students, it gets more complicated. We’re convinced that there’s a huge number of unreported cases, and when a case comes up, we need support from KTH to be able to handle it as well as possible.”

Equality Office established

As far as KTH was concerned, an upgrade of its gender equality work was already on the agenda by the time the MeToo campaign began to gather momentum online and in the news. One of the initiatives included the establishment of an Equality Office, tasked with coordinating and supporting gender equality work.

Two new gender equality officers are attached to the Equality Office. They replace the current gender equality coordinator, who is retiring at the end of this year, but they will have different areas of responsibility.

Alice Marshall, who will focus on the students’ situation, has been in place at KTH for a few weeks now. She has previously worked as a gender equality consultant for the School of Architecture and postgraduate students at the Kista campus.

“For me it’s important for gender equality work to be based on research and knowledge, so it feels good to be here. I will also be working with the student union and supporting them in their gender equality work,” she explains.

No quick fix

The second new officer will start in December, focusing on KTH’s employees. Work over the next few years will be about implementing the gender equality integration plan, which was drawn up earlier this year. But it will hardly be a quick fix, according to Anna Wahl.

“After all, integration means the gender equality perspective has to be part of all decisions, at all levels and throughout the entire chain. We will need to work a great deal and broadly on raising awareness and levels of knowledge.”

Perhaps MeToo can also give an extra boost to long-term gender equality efforts. There are certain indications, for example, of a growing interest in gender and equality courses.

Plans for continued gender equality work also include follow-up work on KTH’s processes. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet recently published an article about a suspected case of rape at KTH that was never reported to the Disciplinary Board.

Anna Wahl explains that such reporting only serves to strengthen her resolve to implement what has already been planned, primarily the focus on raising awareness and knowledge about what sexual harassment means and what action managers and colleagues can take.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius