Probe reveals 'predatory' culture at Australia's Antarctic research bases

Mawson research station after snowfall. PHOTO: ANTARCTICA.GOV.AU

SYDNEY - Women working at Australia's isolated research stations in Antarctica face a "predatory" culture and widespread sexual harassment, according to an inquiry report published Friday.

Problematic behaviour ranged from sexual jokes and taunts to unwelcome requests for sex, and even the display of pornographic material on the bases, the report said.

Expeditioners described the culture as homophobic and "objectifying" for women, gender equity expert Meredith Nash wrote, after conducting a government-sanctioned inquiry following complaints about the behaviour.

People stationed at Australia's remote bases in Antarctica must live together in close quarters, working in an extreme environment, sometimes for up to a year.

Women are underrepresented on the stations, especially during winter, and those interviewed "described a culture of widespread, low-level sexual harassment that permeates" the bases, Ms Nash said.

Women expeditioners felt pressure to hide the fact they were menstruating while in the field, the report said.

"When I was briefed on this for the first time, and when I read people's stories, I was shocked and I was disappointed," Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Friday. "The treatment outlined in the report was, and is, unacceptable."

The Australian Antarctic Division's director Kim Ellis said the programme engaged a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist in the wake of Ms Nash's findings. AFP

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