Open Letter: Demands for the ETH (Download)


The ETH Zurich regularly occupies one of the top places in international university rankings and is proud to assume a leading role in research and teaching. However, as soon as social issues are addressed, particularly with regard to gender equality, the Swiss model institution reveals itself in a less positive light. In contrast to other world-leading universities, the ETH Zurich has neither an effective interdepartmental plan with concrete measures for implementing gender equality, nor are there guidelines for dealing with cases of discrimination or sexual harassment and violence. By international standards, the resources invested by the ETH Zurich to combat gender inequality are also negligible.


We demand that ETH Zurich becomes aware of its social responsibility as a leading teaching and research institution, and that it takes gender equality issues seriously and undertakes effective measures to tackle the imminent challenges.



Gender mainstreaming on all levels instead of barely effective projects and workshops


With the Gender Action Plan adopted in February 2014, the ETH Zurich set itself ambitious goals, including a balanced representation of women and men on all academic career levels. However, as the ETH internal statistics in the annually published Gender Monitoring demonstrate, very little has happened since then. The proportion of ordinary and extraordinary professorships held by women, for example, rose only from 10.2% to 12.1% in the three years after 2014 (ETH Gender Monitoring, 2017).


This shows that ETH Zurich's current gender equality strategy is not effective and must be urgently reconsidered if the ETH Zurich is to achieve the goals it has set itself. We therefore call for a paradigm shift in ETH Zurich's gender equality strategy; a move away from its current focus on small, specific projects towards a holistic strategy that pervades all ETH-levels. This implies taking into account the individual and varying circumstances, the preconditions and interests of different genders in all decisions (gender mainstreaming).


We demand:


  • The Elimination of the structural gender-bias on the highest level by implementing a quota for shortlists and selection committees

  • Mandatory leadership training for executives and professors at the ETH Zurich, in which gender training (sensitization and training with regard to discrimination and promotion on the basis of gender) plays an important role

  • "Gender-mainstreamed" teaching:

    • (1) introducing gender-sensitive teaching methods as pedagogical practice: Enhancement of the design and implementation of teaching activities, e.g. when it comes to the distribution of speaking time or adopting anonymous examination procedures

    • (2) being aware of gender inequality in the subject content: Aiming for more equality between women and men in terms of subject, course literature and other teaching materials

  • Addressing and recognising the existence of multiple gender identities instead of the strict division of sexes (binary thinking)

  • An independent commission/body that reviews and, if necessary, adapts all relevant existing and future ETH documents and founding principles (strategy, mission statement, etc.) for potentially discriminatory formulations

  • Consistent use of gender-sensitive language in all ETH documents and on the website

  • Increased financial and human resources in promoting gender equality and extension of the body for equal opportunities lead by a minimum of 200% percentage job  


Effective measures for preventing and combating sexual assault instead of empty words.


"ETH Zurich strictly does not tolerate any form of sexual assault or discrimination based on gender.” (Gender Action Plan ETH Zürich,2014).The fact that this promise does not reflect reality at the ETH has been demonstrated by media-covered incidents in recent months. Not only must the ETH Zurich speak out clearly against sexual assault, it must also provide adequate infrastructure and agree on specific guidelines for dealing with cases of harassment, violence and discrimination.


We demand:


  • The establishment of internal as well as external offices for contact and support with qualified consultants who are independent from the ETH Zurich

  • The option to report personally and anonymously

  • A respectful and serious treatments with those reports

  • A binding and publicly accessible ETH guideline on how to deal with sexual assault

  • Awareness-raising measures for ETH employees, in particular for managers and professors (training courses, guidelines, workshops, etc.)


All the universities with which ETH Zurich likes to compare itself internationally - Harvard,  Cambridge, Stanford, Oxford, MIT, Caltech and Imperial College London among others - already have the aforementioned institutional facilities and guidelines. Most of these top universities also have a 24/7 reporting service for cases of sexual assault and in-house as well as external lawyers for the victims.

In October 2017, Cambridge also launched a broad campaign to combat sexual harassment under the name "Breaking the silence", which is having a noticeable effect. ETH Zurich risks losing top female candidates who might feel more welcome at one of these other universities. It is time ETH reflects its global position as a top institution by becoming a leader in gender equality issues.



Understanding care work as a shared responsibility instead of focusing on women and mothers only


The ETH Zurich already offers a broad range of services to promote the compatibility of family and career. These range from daycare nursery facilities to specific events for parents, family rooms, consultations and financial support. However, ETH Zurich's compatibility strategy focuses too strongly on women and mothers. Thus, the ETH implicitly and uncritically reinforces the assumption that care work should be carried out by women only.


We demand that ETH shifts to an understanding of care work as the responsibility of society as a whole. This includes, among other things, encouraging and supporting men in their role as fathers. The fact that Switzerland lags behind all other European countries in terms of paid parental leave should not prevent the ETH from introducing progressive regulations. On the contrary, the ETH Zurich could take on a pioneering role in this area.


We demand:


  • Parental leave of 38 weeks, with paid paternity leave of at least 8 weeks. This proposal is in line with the recommendations of the Federal Coordination Commission for Family Affairs (EKFF, 2018) based on scientifically sound arguments and is far below the OECD average of 54 weeks of paid parental leave

  • Adjusted assistantship where the time used for care-work will be deducted from the time of the assistantship


We demand that ETH Zurich implements our claims. Until 2020 we expect a proposition, in which the ETH states the necessary measurements to enhance gender equality.

Frauen*streikkollektiv Zürcher Hochschulen, AG ETH                                                                       14. Mai 2019




I signed the open letter because I totally agree with all the points made, and I want to experience a change in my every day life at ETH.



Current number of signatures:


© 2019 by Frauen*streik Kollektiv an Hochschulen AG ETH