Where Humans Destroy Nature, Women Also Suffer More Violence
By Julia Conley
Climate action leaders have warned for years that marginalized frontline communities in poor countries are already facing the most destructive impacts of the climate crisis, and a new study confirms those fears, detailing how women in those regions are at greater risk for violence and abuse as the environment is degraded.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released its study on Wednesday after conducting more than 80 case studies and speaking to more than 300 sources over the course of a two-year project.
"This study adds to the urgency of halting environmental degradation alongside action to stop gender-based violence in all its forms, and demonstrates that the two issues often need to be addressed together," said Dr. Grethel Aguilar, IUCN's acting director-general.
The study is the largest and most comprehensive to ever examine the gender-specific effects of the climate crisis, IUCN says.
Of the more than 300 responses IUCN compiled from international organizations working in developing countries, six in 10 respondents said they had observed gender-based violence directed at female environmental defenders, climate refugees and migrants, and an increase in such violence in areas where the climate crisis and global heating has put a strain on resources.
Abuses the organizations uncovered include child marriage and forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual violence and assault, and human trafficking.
"As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that in turn creates scarcity and stress for people, and the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases," said Cate Owren, lead author of the report.
The publication was praised by women's rights advocates on social media.
"The fight against the climate crisis will have far more of an impact if represented by those most affected," tweeted the British Women's Equality Party.
One more illustration of the need to consider impact on #gender upfront in any policy. Climate breakdown 'is incr… https://t.co/KzT4jytnOZ— Melinda Simmons (@Melinda Simmons)1580323811.0
The correlation between increasing #environmental stresses and #genderviolence highlights the imminent need to elec… https://t.co/07bpOGKXFN— WomensEqualityUK (@WomensEqualityUK)1580310361.0
The study found that both human trafficking and forced child marriage are becoming increasingly common in places where chronic drought, flooding and heatwaves have caused crop yields to suffer and brought on a scarcity of resources.
"When families struggle to meet basic needs, marrying off young daughters is seen as a way to lighten financial burdens," the report reads. "There is growing concern around reports of an increase in child marriage associated with conflict and natural disasters and environmental shocks."
According to The Guardian, about 12 million more young girls are believed to have been married off after extreme weather events increased, while human trafficking increases by 20 to 30% after weather disasters.
"In most parts of the world, women are already disadvantaged and lack land rights and legal rights, so are vulnerable to exploitation," wrote Fiona Harvey in The Guardian. "When the additional stresses caused by the climate crises bite, they are the first to be targeted."
The destruction of the environment by extractive industries has significant effects on women's safety, as an influx of male miners, construction workers and security guards is linked to an increase in gender-based and sexual violence, often with Indigenous women as targets.
"Mining areas, many of which are in Indigenous territories, have seen heavy military presence, resulting in various human rights violations, such as torture, psychological disturbance, destruction and divestment of properties (livestock and crops), as well as violence against women, including rape," reads the study in a section about the Mindanao region of the Philippines.
Sexual violence is also used to suppress women who attempt to defend their homes and environments from extractive industries, and to intimidate others who may come forward in protest.
"Environmental crimes degrade ecosystems, and also often bring new, worsening patterns of violence against women, minorities, and marginalized communities," said Jenny Springer, director of IUCN's global program on governance and rights. "Many Indigenous women in particular face gender-based and other violence as their communities act to defend their territories, resources and rights from such illegal activities."
Since women in many parts of the world are responsible for gathering water and provisions for their families, they are often at an increasingly greater risk for gender-based violence as they have to travel farther from home, as resources shrink.
IUCN surveyed the Danish Refugee Council, which conducted a study at Doro Refugee Camp in South Sudan regarding dangers faced by residents there. Women in the study identified collecting firewood outside the camp as the biggest risk they regularly took.
"Food insecurity and the lack of firewood forces women and girls to go outside of the camps to collect firewood despite the risks of suffering violence by militias, private forest owners, rangers or other unknown perpetrators," the report reads. "Many ... survey respondents also raised these concerns as one of the major threats in refugee camps as related to emergency responses and protracted crises."
IUCN's study was released a day after CARE International published its report "Suffering in Silence," showing how the climate crisis has exacerbated conflicts and economic and political instability across Africa, making the continent home to nine of the 10 most-overlooked humanitarian crises in the world.
"Environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security," said Aguilar. "This study shows that the damage humanity is inflicting on nature is also fueling violence against women around the world — a link that has so far been largely overlooked."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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