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.
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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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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