Widespread Sexual Harassment at Australia’s Research Camps in Antarctica
A report found that women working at Australia’s research camps in Antarctica were subjected to widespread sexual harassment. It described evidence of unwanted touching, sex requests, and a predatory culture that tolerated pornography on walls and sexual taunts. Women also felt compelled to conceal their menstruation and ration tampons and pads due to scarcity.
The findings have been denounced and officials have pledged to implement cultural change.
Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s Environment Minister, said she was “gobsmacked” by the independent review of Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) sites. It was instituted in response to complaints.
“As a minister, I take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment in any workplace for which I am responsible,” Ms Plibersek told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).
“The work the division does is critical: for our national interest, for science and the environment, and for the future of this planet.” “It’s far too important to be tainted and diminished by prejudice and harassment,” she added.
Australia’s Antarctic sites, which include the Casey, Davis, and Mawson research stations, are located on the continent’s eastern edge. During the summer, up to 500 expeditioners can be sent there, but the camps are reduced to about 15-30 key workers during the winter. These employees, who include doctors, chefs, and field officers, typically live at a station for a year.
Women in the camps felt they couldn’t escape or get immediate help because of the remote and isolated environment, according to the report’s author, Meredith Nash, an Australian National University professor. She told the ABC, which first reported the findings on Friday, that they “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 discovered a homophobic culture among the male-dominated field, and people were afraid to speak out for fear of being excluded from future expeditions. Additionally, the report stated that women scientists felt pressured to hide their periods in such a masculine environment out of fear of male judgement.
Women were also required to “go through a gatekeeper to access free menstrual products” through a voucher request system, indicating a lack of adequate support in basic camp infrastructure.
AAD Director Kim Ellis said that the report’s recommendations were already being implemented.
“I am deeply concerned by the stories I’ve heard about sexual harassment, discrimination, and exclusion at our workplaces,” he added.
The report is 32 pages long, but only a seven-page summary will be made public due to privacy concerns.