A report has revealed that women working at Australia’s research camps in Antarctica have endured widespread sexual harassment. It carries evidence of uninvited touching, requests for sex, displays of pornography, and limited provision for women menstruating. The findings have prompted an independent review of workplace culture and complaint handling.
The federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said she was “shocked and disappointed” by the independent review of Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) sites.
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“When I was briefed on this for the first time, and when I read people’s stories, I was shocked and I was disappointed. Let me be absolutely clear, there is no place for sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour in any workplace,” she said in a statement.
“The work the division does is critical: for our national interest, for science and the environment, for the future of this planet. It’s far too important to be tainted and diminished by prejudice and harassment,” she added.
The report’s author Meredith Nash, a professor at the Australian National University, said the women felt like they couldn’t escape or get immediate help due to the remote and isolated environment. Nash’s investigation included reports of unwelcome requests for sex, uninvited physical contact or gestures, displays of offensive or pornographic material, sexist jokes, inappropriate drinking culture, and a homophobic culture on stations.
The AAD manages four permanent research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic. Depending on the time of the year, the number of people stationed there can range from a few dozens to over 100. Nash’s findings were first reported by ABC and she told the channel that women “have to work in the fields with their abusers for weeks at a time because they simply can’t leave”.
“Or, because of the power dynamics, they are not in a position to make a complaint or get support immediately as they would do back home,” she added.
The report also said that women felt the need to hide their menstruation, and ration tampons and pads because they were so limited.
A homophobic culture was also mentioned in the report, and said people feared speaking out due to fears that they might be excluded from future expeditions. The environment made women scientists feel pressured to hide their periods out of fear of male judgement, the review said.
The report runs into 32 pages, but only a seven-page summary will be publicly released due to privacy concerns.
(With inputs from agencies)