KUALA LUMPUR - Two in three Australian women have been sexually harassed at work, with the majority of cases unreported, according to a survey released on Tuesday (Dec 11) that highlighted challenges activists said prevent women from advancing in their careers.
Some 64 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men said they had been harassed at their current or former workplace, according to the survey of over 9,600 people by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the country's main group representing workers.
The majority of those surveyed said they were subjected to offensive behaviour or unwanted sexual attention. However, only about a quarter of them made formal complaints, due to fears of repercussion, the survey found.
"Everyone should go to work free from the fear of harassment and unwanted sexual attention," the council's president Michele O'Neil said in a statement.
"For many people - mainly women - today in Australia this is not the reality. Our workplace laws have failed women who are experiencing harassment at work."
Campaigners said sexual harassment creates a workplace environment that is discriminatory towards women, which can prevent them from moving forward in their careers.
"Sexual harassment in the workplace closes off women's opportunities and supports the attitudes that make violence more likely," Merrindahl Andrew, from the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, said by e-mail.
Australia was ranked 35 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2017 Gender Gap Index, up from 46 in 2016 due to greater female representation legislators and managers.
Although the global #MeToo movement has helped raised awareness about sexual harassment, the advocacy group Plan International said the lack of strong policies and enforcement has discouraged victims from coming forward in Australia.
"The survey finding is disturbing, yet not surprising to us," the group's chief executive in Australia Susanne Legena told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She urged the government to improve reporting mechanisms, including by setting up a specific hotline and enhance training for police officers to fight underreporting of cases.