Asset Publisher
javax.portlet.title.customblogportlet_WAR_customblogportlet (Health is Global Blog)

25 N: #SeAcabó in Academia and Healthcare in Spain

Photo: WGH-Spain

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a structural problem inherent in a culture in which women are in a position of vulnerability.


[This article was written by Blanca Paniello Castillo, Elena Marbán Castro, Elena González Rojo and Stefanía Wachowicz. All three authors are members of the Spanish chapter of Women in Global Health.]


To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25), we would like to share the results of a study carried out by researchers from ISGlobal, Women in Global Health Spain and other Spanish research centres. This initiative was inspired by the case of Jennifer Hermoso and the emergence in Spain of a movement under the hashtag #SeAcabó (“It’sOver”), a reaction to the impunity with which Luis Rubiales—president of the Spanish Football Federation—was able to make a public statement alleging “fake feminism” and discrediting the struggle for gender equality.

Many women felt represented by Jennifer, who herself was not initially aware that what had happened to her constituted harassment. The fact that there was a subsequent attempt to publicly discredit her and cast doubts on her account of the event sends a very dangerous message; if doubt can be cast on a woman’s testimony when there is video evidence of what happened, how can we expect girls and women who have suffered gender violence to denounce their abusers when they have no evidence to support their claims?


Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Power in Healthcare and Academia

Inspired by that case, a group of researchers came together to collect testimonies from women working in their own field: healthcare and academia. As described in the article published in The Lancet Regional Health Europe, in almost 74% of the 345 accounts contributed by those who shared their experiences in that study, women reported feeling sexually harassed at some time in their lives. Moreover, in 45.2% of these cases, the women reported feeling that sexual harassment and abuse of power were normalised behaviours in their workplace. Those of us who participated in this project feel it is our ethical duty to expose these behaviours, establish clear limits and develop guidelines that may be useful for the future. As researchers, we believe that activism and research are vital tools in the fight to give voice to those who have none.


A Structural Problem

An analysis of the testimonies collected by our team reveals that, even in the health sector, sexual harassment in the workplace is a structural problem inherent in a culture in which women are in a position of vulnerability. The most visible cases of sexual harassment take the form of normalised sexist behaviours, which we have to put up with on a daily basis, such as inappropriate kisses or hugs, subtle touching and sexist jokes.

As we analysed the women’s stories, it became clear that women’s vulnerability to sexual harassment increases with the precariousness of their position; in 64.6% of the experiences reported, the woman was in a lower status position than the perpetrator (for example, doctoral student, administrative worker, trainee nurse or doctor).

This November 25 we would like to pose the question of why only 6.7% of the women who took part in this study reported the harassment to their employers or made any formal complaint. They told us that they did not feel supported by their peers and that they were afraid of not being believed and that any complaint would negatively impact their career advancement. The harsh reality is that the harasser had to face consequences in only 1.4% of the cases described in the accounts collected.


Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

After much reflection and the publication of the Comment article, we propose a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and clear definitions of what constitutes such abuse. The current reality is that we live in a society where behaviour that should be viewed as harassment is considered “normal”. We also want to stress the importance of achieving gender parity in leadership roles and the need for a gender transformative female leadership capable of changing the rules of the game. None of these goals will be achieved if further research is not undertaken to evaluate existing policies, programmes and actions in order to generate data and scientific evidence, applying an intersectional approach. Furthermore, prevention policies, protocols for action and assistance for victims are all urgently needed and must be implemented while progress is made towards achieving a change in organisational culture that will ensure safe working environments for women.



Unfortunately, however, workplace abuse is just one of the many types of violence perpetrated against women, including physical, psychological and economic abuse, vicarious violence, femicide, and trafficking. The list goes on and on. Today, on November 25, let’s celebrate justice, remember the victims, support the survivors and work together to eliminate all of these forms of violence.

The #SeAcabó movement has once again highlighted the need to break a cycle of abuse and aggression that has affected countless generations, existed for decades, and been normalised and embedded in the structure of our society. Despite the rise of anti-feminist movements, feminism (that is, the struggle for equal rights) should never be a battle between two opposing factions; its aim is not to attack any group or to generate hatred or divisions. However, certain people who have enjoyed and taken advantage of a privileged position for decades now feel “challenged” by having to “cede their privileges” to half of the world’s population, and seek to silence and disqualify women.

But we are here to make it clear that these behaviours are not normal and to advocate for a change to the current situation. We are taking action for ourselves, for our colleagues, for the generations to come and for all of those who have suffered in silence for years.

Today on November 25, and always, we demand equality and an end to violence against women because it is over (#SeAcabó) and we will never again keep quiet about abuse.