Sydney. A damning inquiry into the treatment of women in Australia’s military on Wednesday recommended quotas to increase female representation and the establishment of a unit to probe sexual misconduct.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said her year-long review of the Australian Defence Force uncovered “systemic, cultural and practical impediments to cultural change” regarding the status of women.
“Our overarching finding is that, despite progress over the last two decades, I am not confident that, in all the varied workplaces that comprise the ADF today, women can and will flourish,” Broderick said.
The inquiry was set up following a series of sex scandals within the military, including an incident in which a male cadet having sex with a female colleague was broadcast via Skype to his classmates.
Broderick said the inquiry heard “deeply distressing” testimony from women who had experienced sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse, with “highly sexualized” behavior normalized in some workplaces.
“Members frequently stated that this behavior was ‘just part of the military and that’s the way it is’,” said Broderick.
“The deep distress and trauma experienced by the women who disclosed incidents makes change across the ADF in its treatment of women both critical and urgent.”
Broderick found that 25.9 percent of women and 10.5 percent of men had been sexually harassed within the military — broadly in line with the civilian population.
But a further 20.3 percent of women and 10.2 percent of men who denied being harassed went on to describe behavior that met the legal definition, she said, suggesting a “lack of awareness” about appropriate conduct.
She called for a dedicated sexual misconduct prevention and response unit to be set up “as a priority” to speed up response, provide victim support, education and oversee confidential reporting of incidents.
Increasing the “critical mass” of women and their prospects for promotion was also key, Broderick said, recommending any workplace of 10 or fewer members have at least two females.
She also called for capable women to be targeted for promotion into senior ranks, with just one top-ranked female in each of the navy and air force from their 52 and 53 top spots, and four of 71 in the army.
Women represented 13.8 percent of the defence force, which had only managed a one percent increase in female recruitment in the past 10 years.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith and ADF chief David Hurley indicated their in-principle support for all 21 recommendations.