Locating the Anthropocene: Man’s Devastating Impact Upon Earth

Image by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

By Matt Goodey

Humans have had a devastating impact upon the planet. There is no doubt to be had about this. CO2 levels have risen at an unprecedented rate in the last 100 years. And that does not look to be changing in any significant manner in the near future, as the underwhelming COP26 deal shows. What is more, the human population is projected to reach 11 billion by 2100. So, even though we already consume around double the amount of resources that the Earth can produce each year, it seems, paying no heed to this disturbing fact, we are bound to become ever more unsustainable. And make no mistake, in this we are unique: even bacteria know when to stop dividing as their population reaches a maximum. 

In light of the recent catastrophic human impact upon the planet, it has been suggested that the earth has entered a new era in its history: the Anthropocene. But is there any definite evidence for this? 

First of all, if we are going to pin the emergence (or lack thereof) of the Anthropocene down to a point in Earth’s history, we need to be able to picture it in light of Earth’s more general history.

That said, Earth’s is 4.567 billion years old. Most of its history has been relatively poorly recorded. Indeed, only the last ~500 million years (Ma) are sufficiently detailed for geologists to examine, and attempt to understand, events. The geological column is composed of eons (i.e. Phanerozoic or Archean) which in turn are formed from Eras (the Phanerozoic is split into Cenozoic meaning young life, Mesozoic meaning middle life and Paleozoic meaning old life) which are composed of Periods, split into Epochs. Usually, the transition into different periods is defined by a notable change in the fossil recorded. The most significant five major mass extinctions, where there was catastrophic loss of biodiversity, mark the transition into different periods, respectively. The appearance/disappearance of other globally distributed species mark the transition into different Epochs (this is known as biostratigraphy). The last epoch on the geological column is the Holocene, which describes the last 11,700 years.

So, the Anthropocene (which stems from Greek meaning new man) defines a new Epoch: a point in Earth’s history where human activities can be seen within the geological record. It could also be referred to as the sixth extinction, for species are disappearing around 100 times faster than they would without anthropogenic activities.

So, there is no doubt that the Anthropocene has begun; the question is when. 

Many would argue that it began with the start of the industrial revolution (~1800 AC), as this is when the burning of fossil fuels began changing the content of Earth’s atmosphere. Others would suggest that it began with the testing of the first atomic bomb, which occurred in the mid 1940s. Earlier dates have also been proposed, such as the start of the deforestation of Britain’s ancient woodlands, which now only occupies 2.5% of Britain’s total land mass. If we went with the last suggestion, then we would be suggesting that the Anthropocene began around the time that humans transitioned from Hunter-gatherers to cultivating livestock and crops some 10,000 years ago.

For a geologist, the physical appearance or disappearance of fossils or other such features in the rock recorded dictates the transition into a new period or epoch. Now, Plastic debris has been known to be melted and incorporated into lava flows which then solidify forming new igneous material. Sedimentary rocks are composed of fragments of pre-existing rocks cemented together in a process known as lithification. Sediment is carried into the ocean through various different processes, and microplastics have been shown to be present across the entire ocean floor. Sedimentary rocks containing plastic are known as “plastiglomerates” and have been recorded on beaches on Hawaii. So, from a geological perspective, the appearance of plastics, first produced in the 1950s, in the rock record is a logical way to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene.

I do not mean this suggestion to be definitive across the board. Rather, I stress it because, beyond being simply sensible, it effectively bars us from passing the Anthropocene off as something that began in distant history. It makes it a recent reality: our reality. Being so unique in nature in our destructive capacities, it reminds us that we must become unique in our capacities to regenerate, rejuvenate, and restore the only Earth that we have, now. The other option is a catastrophic worsening of the reality we have made: for ourselves and all life on Earth.

Not Even the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Can Get Kagame in Trouble

The international community’s golden child at the 2018 Munich Security Conference. Photo by MSC / Hildenbrand

By Anna Videbaek Smith

Not even the late-night hours of August 27th 2020 could tame the scorching Dubai heat, as 66-year old Paul Rusesabagina boarded a private jet. While slightly jaded from ill health and the passing of time, Rusesabagina remained recognisable as the man who saved more than 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Accompanied by a pastor friend, the 2005 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and subject of Oscar-nominated film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ thought he was headed to Burundi to speak at churches. Instead, the pastor, cooperating with Rwandan intelligence services, lured Rusesabagina on a one-way flight to the Rwandan capital of Kigali. The more than six-hour journey culminated in Rusesabagina’s arrest at a Kigali police station – the alleged torture, binding, and gagging he faced were but the cherry on top. A year later, in September 2021, the Belgian citizen and permanent US resident was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of terrorism.

The kidnapping and trial have received significant media coverage and have been condemned by the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the European Parliament. However, one major player has been eerily quiet; despite a bipartisan letter from 41 members of Congress urging the State Department to pursue Rusesabagina’s release, the Biden Administration has yet to adequately address the issue. The most the US has done is release a statement “[urging] the government of Rwanda to take steps to examine these shortcomings in Mr Rusesabagina’s case”. Will they do more? Probably not; Rwanda, and its president, Paul Kagame, are the golden child of the international community receiving more than $100 million annually in American foreign aid. Hailed as “one of the greatest leaders of our time” by Bill Clinton and “a visionary” by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Kagame even received the Clinton Foundation’s Global Citizen Award. Unsurprisingly, given his friendship with Bill Gates, Kagame is a regular at the Davos World Economic Forum where he victoriously parades around Rwanda’s 8% annual growth rate. The country was even set to host the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting showing its close ties to the United Kingdom. Rwanda’s links to France are even stronger with the former Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo working as the Secretary General of La Francophonie. In short, President Kagame has the West wrapped around his little finger.

This is all despite Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Freedom House loudly and continuously sounding the alarm on the country’s egregious human rights violations. Domestically, Kagame adheres to the authoritarian strongman’s playbook as evidenced by the many suspected assassinations of political dissidents on foreign soil. Notable cases include anti-government journalist Jean Bosco Gasasira in Sweden in 2013 and former chief intelligence officer Patrick Karegeya in South Africa in 2014. Lack of press freedom is another key element of Kagame’s tightly run ship; ‘humiliating’ the government was criminalised in 2018 and journalists engaging in independent reporting are regularly subjected to intimidation, criminal charges, or worse.  Finally, there are strong indications of governmental monitoring of personal communications, which the publication of the Pegasus Project has only lent more credence to. Taking it even further, authorities reportedly use informants to infiltrate civil society, reducing social and political discourse to whispers behind closed doors.

Why does the West – and the US in particular – tolerate this? Does it not go against our supposed values of freedom and democracy? Values we have fought so many wars to protect and promote. There is no obvious strategic interest in Rwanda; the country possesses few natural resources and there is no Islamic terrorism. Then why does Kagame possess this perpetual ‘get out of jail free’ card? I believe there are two reasons, the first being the West’s guilt surrounding the 1994 genocide. Over the span of three months, nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in cold blood. The West was unequivocally aware of it; in January, the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda received reliable intelligence that Hutu extremists “had been ordered to register all Tutsis in Kigali” most likely “for their extermination”. This was relayed to UN leadership and Western ambassadors in Kigali, yet very little was done. While there initially were 2,548 UN peacekeepers stationed in the country, the UN Security Council voted to withdraw all but 270 just two weeks into the genocide. At this point, an estimated 100,000 bodies had already piled up.  The mass murders did not end until the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi paramilitary group led by Paul Kagame, seized Kigali on the 15th of July 1994. Since Kagame helped end the genocide, while the West twiddled their thumbs on the side-lines, no external actors occupy the moral high ground, making our politicians reluctant to call the current Rwandan government out on their grotesque human rights violations. This seems to be an open secret in diplomatic circles with a former Rwandan ambassador to the US stating that “the Americans, the British, they become cowed by guilt”.

 A second explanation for the West’s inaction is that Rwanda provides a success story of economic development, which are few and far between. While Kagame’s government is ethically dubious, there is no denying it has improved the living standards of millions; under his rule, child mortality has fallen by more than 70%. This is in large part due to heavily subsidised compulsory health insurance, which has allowed Rwanda to handle COVID-19 exceptionally well. With only 18,000 cases and 260 deaths, the Lowy Institute has ranked their management of the pandemic first in Africa and sixth in the world. Frequently hailed as an “economic miracle”, Rwanda’s investments in agriculture, energy, and infrastructure have reportedly lifted more than one million people out of poverty. According to Jeffrey Gettleman’s reporting for the New York Times, these are among the many reasons why diplomats and analysts often “[aren’t] entirely bothered by Kagame’s authoritarian streak”.

Will the Rusesabagina case change anything? This is not just another local politician or journalist, but a permanent American resident and internationally adored hero. If the US is unwilling to condemn Kagame’s government for these actions when they know the entire world is watching, the future of human rights in Rwanda seems bleaker than ever.

Another Pandemic? Covid-19’s Human Rights Abuses and How Best to Respond

By Jemma Clarke

Photo by Matteo Jorjoson on Unsplash

From the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, states and societies have faced a vast array of challenges. It has deepened and exasperated many pre-existing inequalities, vulnerabilities and divides. Much more than just a public health emergency, it has also created what UN Secretary-General António Guterres named “a pandemic of human rights abuses”. As we emerge from the pandemic, recovery and response should not only focus on preventing the spread of the virus or distributing vaccines but rather also should look to tackle the underlying factors that have worsened pre-existing inequalities. Human rights must be at the forefront of the framework, and a human rights-based approach is essential.

António Guterres has emphasised that cooperation and solidarity must be at the centre of an effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that approaches and methods “must have a human rights lens”. Such a rights-based approach is not new, emerging some 20 years ago. It is defined by the UN as “a conceptual framework for the processes of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights,”. It involves making sure that no one is left behind and places rights holders as the primary actors in decision-making processes. Amnesty International has emphasised the necessity for actions to be grounded in such a framework.

The objective to “leave no one behind” was adopted in 2015 by all UN member states as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously hindered achieving this goal. Gender equality has “been set back decades” since the start of the pandemic, with women comprising the majority of frontline workers, and taking on most of the increased duty of care in the home. Violence against women has also dramatically risen. Responses by governments towards the pandemic have disproportionately affected certain groups of people, including detainees, refugees, ethnic minority groups, disabled people, and elderly citizens across the world. In many different cases across the world, this has included breaches of human rights.

This includes rights regarding free speech. The Human Rights Watch documented that over 80 governments have used Covid-19 as an excuse to stifle dissent, restrict free speech, and repress peaceful protests. This is especially notable in authoritarian regimes. For example, it has been reported that in China there have been significant amounts of censors blocking information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese social media was found to have blocked neutral, speculative, and factual information about COVID-19. This ultimately produces misinformation and limits the effectiveness of public response and general awareness.

Furthermore, misinformation and disinformation campaigns have included concealing access to life-saving information, even by political leaders. One notable example is the former president of Tanzania, John Magufuli. Throughout his time in office, up until his death in March earlier this year, Magufuli was a staunch anti-vaxxer. He declared in July 2020 that “Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,”. He praised people for not wearing face masks, asserted that Covid is a hoax, and dismissed and rejected vaccinations. Given that Magufuli refused to recognise COVID-19 as a ‘real’ issue, no official information was released since May 2020, at which point only 20 deaths were reported. Tanzania has a population of around 60 million, and yet the World Health Organisation has only 725 deaths recorded to date: a remarkably small percentage of the population. Tanzanian doctors noted increased numbers of patients with symptoms of Covid-19, but they were unable to record these figures. As a result of underreporting and a serious lack of reliable, official data, it is fair to conclude the Magufuli’s leadership and legacy failed the people of Tanzania.

Guterres’ Call to Action for Human Rights outlined a framework on how to counter issues of restricted free speech, censorship and misinformation with human rights at the centre. Some methods include the creation of guidance on human rights due diligence on technology products and related policies to ensure they are not used for censorship, surveillance or repression; supporting more systematic participation of civil society in UN agencies and bodies; and general advocacy for the protection and promotion of human rights in digital spaces.

There have also been examples of human rights breaches in Western countries, including in the UK. Several studies have shown that marginalised groups and individuals, including the disabled and elderly, have been disproportionally affected and particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the pandemic. This includes experiencing human rights abuses and violations which can result in psychological distress. A report by the Joint Commission on Human Rights in May 2021 revealed that for those in care homes, official guidance prioritised Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the duty to protect residents’ right to life, above ECHR Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life. This led to many reports of resulting rapid declines in mental and physical health. Amnesty International emphasised these “devasting” effects and the human rights violations in elderly care homes in England caused by the UK. Reports noted that increased social isolation as in the case of lockdowns and curfews caused “significant adverse psychological effects”, and exacerbated sleeping problems for the elderly.

Likewise, people with disabilities have also faced increased isolation from the pandemic, and have struggled to get the support they need. This similarly has had a negative psychological impact. Many disabled people are also at increased risk to Covid-19. The Office of National Statistics published in November 2020 that disabled people made up 59% of Covid-19 deaths, which considering they make up only about 16% of the UK population, is a highly disproportional and shocking figure. While the Government must protect lives, they also have a duty to protect and maintain their right to family and prevent vulnerable individuals from being isolated and excluded. Unfortunately, exclusion and isolation has pre-existed the pandemic. Therefore, larger-scale work and actions are needed. Change can most effectively be achieved by placing human rights at the forefront of policies, ensuring marginalised and vulnerable individuals are involved in discussions, and that their needs are listened to and acted upon.

Ultimately, a human rights-based approach should be at the heart of our response to the virus and the pre-existing inequalities that have been exacerbated by the virus. We are in a unique situation that offers us the opportunity, as stressed by Guterres, to “ensure human rights for all,”. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore.

Sexual Liberation in Morocco: Not just a matter of morality

Photo by Fabio Santaniello Bruun on Unsplash

By Charlotte Lang

In an age of purported sexual liberation, it can be easy to forget that mandates around sexuality occupy not just a social sphere but a legal one. Since major reforms to the Moroccan Moudawawa (family code) were implemented in 2004, the nation has been lauded for its balance of women’s rights within an Islamic legal framework. While it has been described by the EU as being the most advanced country in the southern Mediterranean in terms of its legal system and democratisation, its conservative laws regarding sexual conduct continue to pose an imminent threat to civil freedom and women’s health. The imprisonment of a young single mother who was the victim of revenge pornograhy in February has reignited the debate on the penal code and sexual freedom at large. 

Legal Framework

Article 490 of the penal code criminalises sexual relations outside of marriage, and article 491 criminalises adultery. Moroccan-French journalist Leïla Slimani has described how young women are subject to cultural obsession with virginity in ways that are fundamentally distinct from that of western women. Indeed, a vast body of ethnographic literature supports the claim that women are judged more severely than men for their sexual conduct and purity in Morocco and the Arab world at large. Certificates of virginity are customary to marriage and naturally only applicable to women. Thus, regardless of individual beliefs, engaging in extramarital sex carries the risk of not only cultural shame but potential criminal charges. Figures from the public prosecutor’s office reveal that in 2019 15,192 people were charged under article 490. 

Pregnancy and Reproductive Health

While in practice most citizens do not abide by these laws, the fear of persecution is ubiquitous and has differing implications for women depending on socioeconomic status. Of course, conversations regarding sexual conduct can never be considered in isolation as they are inextricably linked to reproductive health and childbirth. In Morocco childbirth outside of marriage is not legally recognised, and while the reformed Moudawawa allows unwed mothers to register their children the legal process is heavily bureaucratic and daunting to low-income women. Laws in the amendment are also contradictory to the extent that local authorities understand them differently. Illegitimate children face not only social exclusion but impediments to accessing public services such as healthcare and education. Services that are not luxuries but fundamental human rights.

Abortion and abandonment are thus natural byproducts of such a legal framework. The charity Insaf estimates that in 2010 24 babies were abandoned each day. As scholars such as Irene Capelli have noted, while outlets for legal abortions exist within Morocco, reproductive governance is centred around neoliberal policies that emphasize personal responsibility. Women must meet certain criteria of social and material vulnerability to be entitled to care via NGOs, often marriage is one of those prerequisites. These bureaucratic burdens thus inadvertently incentivise women to seek illegal and unsafe abortions. The widespread culture of shame also deters unmarried women and men from consulting health centres for contraceptives and HIV screenings for fear of violating social norms of respectability. Women living in rural regions are similarly chronically neglected by the state due to a lack of healthcare infrastructure. The result is that hundreds of illegal abortions are carried out each day irrespective of class and educational status. In this way, the legal parameters for sexual conduct are not merely a debate on morality but of public health. Reform to the penal code must be accompanied by reform in the greater healthcare infrastructure in order to sufficiently address human rights within Morocco. 

Larger Context and Implications

Administered first and foremost by the state, Slimani has broached the idea that these penal laws ultimately produce citizens adapted to a larger system of oppression. The severe social controls that women are subject to denies them autonomy and makes men the government’s instrument of authoritarian control within the family sphere. Article 490 thus has a much more insidious effect on citizenship and social control in Morocco at large. It also reaffirms the importance of viewing gendered oppression as symptomatic rather than isolated from larger mechanisms of state control.

It is worth noting that discussions around gender and Islam are often reductive and culturally charged. Jasmin Zine has observed that Muslim women are caught between two competing discourses on their identity: the fundamentalist, patriarchal narrative concerned with confining their social and public lives and the western feminist narrative fraught with neo-colonial undertones. The latter is what we see most overtly in France with the banning of headscarves under the guise of secularism and liberation. A practice that has consistently been traced back to France’s imperial past, specifically the public unveiling ceremonies lead by the French army during the Algerian War of Independence in 1958 which were framed as spaces of empowerment and emancipation for Muslim women. There is also a pervasive tendency to view Islam as a monolith, whereas Islam, like other dominant religions, is a global phenomenon subject to cultural adaptations and interpretations. In the Arab world, a pre-Islamic patriarchal culture was wedded to Islamic jurisprudence and hence continues to be bound by it. In this light, Moroccan women must exist at the forefront of discussions regarding the repeal of the laws and gendered inequality in the nation at large.

Indeed, in stark contrast to notions of a helpless female Muslim majority, the call for reform in Morocco has been consistently initiated by its own women. Groups such as l’Union de l’Action Féminine called for changes to the Moudawawa for decades prior to its reforms on the grounds of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Islamic principles. Since 2019 grassroots collectives such as Hors-la-Loi, Collective 490, and Moroccan Outlaws have organised a new wave of protests, prompting numerous members of parliament to speak out in favour of repeal and a review of the penal code. Given the historical precedent, it is now more important than ever that Moroccan women and citizens alike mobilise and rally for legal reform in the fight for sexual liberation. 

Filipino Healthcare Workers, Forgotten Martyrs of the Pandemic

Photo by SJ Objio on Unsplash

By Kathy Dimaya

When I was in hospital in New York City in 2015, I noticed a handful of Filipino nurses taking turns monitoring the patients in the emergency room. Each time a nurse carted me to another test, I counted even more Filipinos in the other practice areas, and eventually, I lost count. The prevalence of Filipinos in healthcare is no secret – nearly 20,000 people emigrate from the Philippines every year to work in nursing and other healthcare professions abroad.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought global health to the forefront of our social consciousness, but despite the rhetoric around heroic healthcare providers and first responders, very few of us have stopped to know who exactly has been working, and dying, on the frontline against the virus for the last year and a half. Alarmingly, Filipinos compose 26% of nurses who have died from COVID-19, while only constituting 4% of nurses in the U.S., a small fraction of all nurses. In addition, Filipinos account for almost half of nurses of colour who have died, disproportionately larger than any other ethnic background.

 Why have Filipinos come to be the most devastated ethnic group in healthcare in the pandemic?

A colonialist history

For decades, the Philippines has exported hundreds of thousands of nurses across the globe. The U.K. currently has one of the highest levels of foreign-born nurses in the EU, with an estimated 40,000 Filipino staff employed by the NHS, while the U.S. at present hosts 150,000 Filipino nurses.   

To understand how this came to be, we look to the turn of the 20th century, which saw the implementation of a new U.S. policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” towards a newly colonised Philippines. Americans built nursing schools across the country and taught Western medical practices in English to Filipino nursing students with the intention of “civilising” local healthcare. Directly after Philippine independence in 1946 and again in the 1960s, the U.S. experienced nursing shortages and twice turned to recruiting Filipino nurses who, by their own colonial enterprise, were already educated by American standards. Amidst a recession in the Philippines during the 1980s, the Philippine government recognised the economic potential of overseas Filipino healthcare workers sending their earnings home, so they encouraged further mass emigration, resulting in a newfound boom in the export of nurses to countries other than the U.S. that endures today.

Exploitation during the pandemic

As a welcoming and obliging people, many Filipinos have long felt at home in nursing and healthcare professions. This considerate nature has caused many Filipino healthcare workers to forgo their own wellbeing, either in favour of the wellbeing of others or to avoid conflict during the difficulty of the pandemic. WNYC reported circumstances in the U.S. where Filipino nurses expressed a “cultural thing of not wanting to rock the boat or speak up for themselves” regarding a shortage of PPE and reusing masks. Similarly, the Philippines Nurses Association of United Kingdom had raised concerns about a “lack of personal protective equipment” as well as possible “higher risk environments” that British-Filipino nurses were asked to work in. Workers in the U.K. also feared that turning down additional shifts would jeopardise their jobs. These reports feel most distressing when we consider that Filipinos are concentrated in bedside or critical care, where stress levels are high, social distancing is impossible, and exposure to COVID-19 is so certain it has become a death sentence.

Furthermore, nurses who emigrated with the intention of remitting money worried more for the livelihood of their families back home. The pandemic crushed the Philippines commercially as enhanced community quarantines caused businesses to fully shut down and the economy to stagnate, so the earnings of family abroad were more valuable than ever. Thus, driven by necessity and undeterred by the possibility of contracting the virus, Filipino nurses worked extra shifts to send much needed money home.

All but forgotten 

The number of hospitalisations today pales in comparison to the astronomical levels of 2020, and half of the global population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. With hospitalisations reduced and much of the Western world becoming double vaccinated earlier this year, many people have returned to a semi-normal life. However, on this path back to normalcy, we must not forget the thousands of nurses, doctors, hospice staff, healthcare providers, and hospital workers who fought against the virus and died before they could see the world as it is today. We must not forget the families who could not be with their loved ones in their last moments and still carry a profound trauma from the pandemic.

Most importantly, the pandemic is not over. Lower income countries battle the pandemic as valiantly as ever. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam are experiencing far more cases in August 2021 than in March 2020, burdening health infrastructures which have yet to recover from the previous 15 months. The more contagious Delta variant has become the dominant strain, causing thousands of new infections every day, and for the unvaccinated, is more likely to cause hospitalisation.

As hospitalisations remain relatively high in the U.S. and U.K., the nurses and healthcare workers who survived working overtime during the first 19 months of the pandemic are the same nurses and healthcare workers we continue to rely on to tend to our sick. If our vaccines lose efficacy or new variants become vaccine-resistant, these same nurses and healthcare workers will once again be our champions. I hope that we finally begin to recognise the contribution of these nurses and healthcare workers, specifically Filipinos, to the pandemic effort, and honour them as true heroes.

Please take a moment to pay tribute to the Filipinos lost to the pandemic at the Kanlungan Tribute Gallery

The voices of women must not be ignored at COP26

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

By Louise Palmer 

From the 31st of October to the 12th of November 2021, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, also known as COP26, will be held in Glasgow. The general mood as this event approaches is one of uncertainty and urgency. There is a growing awareness amongst populations worldwide, that the climate crisis can no longer be dismissed or ignored. This year alone, global news channels have broadcast images as California was overwhelmed by wildfires and as floods devastated Germany and China. However, the continual impact of the climate crisis on countries in the Global South has been a less prominent feature of reporting. There was no widespread uproar in September as Madasgar began to experience one of the first climate change-induced famines after suffering four years of drought. This was despite the fact that the WEF reports that Madasgar has only contributed “0.01% of all the carbon dioxide generated from 1933-2019.” 

Even less prominent, in both news coverage and leader’s agendas, is the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and indigenous communities. In order to effectively tackle climate change and its effects, this cannot be ignored any longer. If leaders at COP26 want to truly make progress on this issue, they must make space for and listen to the voices of women and indigenous communities. The importance of doing so is illustrated by the words of the former president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, “the ocean is in our backyard, and literally on our front lawn. There is no higher place that is safe to retreat to,”

The disparate effects of climate change on women across the globe. 

In many places, women suffer disproportionately due to the shortages of fuel, water and food which climate change exacerbates or, increasingly, directly causes. An apt example of the latter is the famine in Madagascar. Women tend to be more vulnerable to the environmental effects of climate change but they also suffer from further damaging societal and economic effects. Joshua Eastin argues that “gender disparities in climate change vulnerability not only reflect preexisting gender inequalities, they also reinforce them.” He highlights that shortages make it harder for women to gain or maintain economic independence and simultaneously increase the barriers to participation in wider society. 

Women also tend to be less likely to have land rights and consequently have an increased likelihood of being displaced due to severe climate change events. In turn, this can lead to a loss of education, employment and support networks. Another insidious impact of climate change is the link between severe climate events and gender-based violence (GBV). Many studies have previously demonstrated that GBV increases in humanitarian crises. Recent work has confirmed that this pattern continues in crises’ caused by climate change. Nahid Rezwana and Rachel Pain argue in their study on cyclone-related disasters in Bangladesh, that as the likelihood of GBV increased, the vulnerability of women and children to the negative effects of the cyclones also increased. These findings are also supported by studies of GBV faced by American women in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina


This autumn, it is vital that an inclusive range of women’s voices are heard and taken seriously. The UK must make sure it fulfils it’s promises to run a vaccination programme and fund quarantine costs for attendees in order to remove the barriers to participation. However, even with these programmes, there are worries many marginalised communities will not have adequate representation. Osprey Orielle Lake, founder and executive director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) argues that “The exclusion of communities most impacted by the climate crisis will not lead to solutions that center climate justice.”Similar calls for representation have also made been by other organisations such as CARE international.  

In the UK, Westminster faced heavy criticism for the all-male selection of its leadership team for COP26 and subsequently back-tracked. The expansion of the UK team is a positive step but it still highlights that the majority of leaders do not understand the need for inclusive representation in tackling climate change. Women do not only face the devastating impacts of climate change but are capable of innovation and creative leadership which will truly lead to progress. In order to move forward in tackling climate change and the impacts of climate disasters, an approach that values the input of women and indigenous communities must be adopted for the full two weeks of COP26, not only for the single day devoted to “gender issues”. 

Femicide: the unrelenting epidemic

Image by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

Written by Sarah Rennie

Content Warning: Violence Against Women & Femicide

Throughout the nineties and early 2000s, Ciudad Juárez (a Mexican city just south of El Paso, Texas) made the headlines for the deaths of numerous women. In 1993, the first crimes were reported, as bodies were found on the outskirts of the city Many of them showed signs of torture or mutilation. Some of the victims were as young as thirteen years old. By 2005, almost 400 women had been brutally murdered in Ciudad Juárez alone, with next to no arrests being made. These events in Juárez should have been a wake-up call for local, national, and global authorities. Naturally, we would expect these shocking statistics to have declined over time. Yet, this is not the case. In 2020, 3273 women were murdered in Mexico, with 940 investigated as femicides.

Femicide is a term that you may be unfamiliar with, but it is one that you should know. It was popularised by writer and activist Diana Russell in 1976 and, at its most basic level, is defined as the murder of women because they arewomen. Femicide is the most extreme form of violence against women. While research shows that global homicide rates are on the decline, femicide rates are not. So, why is this the case?

According to a 2016 study by UNWOMEN, Latin American countries account for 14 of the 25 most dangerous countries for women worldwide. While it is true that these statistics have changed somewhat over the last five years, femicide continues to be an increasing problem in this region. The prevalence of femicide in Latin America can be related to the historical and cultural phenomenon of “machismo”.  This is the belief that men are superior to women. Societal norms in the Latin America demand that men conform to a hypermasculine stereotype and assume a dominant role in society. They show little weakness and must protect the vulnerable. However, this is often done by exercising control over the women in their lives and minimising their status. In some prominent cases of femicide in Mexico, authorities have ruled deaths as suicides first. This absolves the murderers of any responsibility in the crime and victimises and blames the woman even further. “Machismo” culture is present in the workplace, at home, on the street, and in popular culture. This way of living normalises “machista” attitudes and often leaves women feeling as though their reactions to jokes, comments or even physical violence are wrong.

Another major reason for the increase in femicides in Latin America is impunity. This stems from the authorities’ indifference to crimes of femicide, setting a cultural precedent for offenders to continue offending with minimal repercussions. Across Latin America, impunity rates can reach up to 96% (Honduras), with the average regional impunity rate staying at 90%. Authorities are so disinterested that often the families of the victims are even left to do the police work for themselves. The concept of impunity relates strongly to the problems that machismo brings to Latin American culture, as authorities do not like to use the word “femicide” to label such crimes. In doing this, the gendered aspect of the killings is diminished, which in turn normalises the culture of “machismo” across the Latin American region and normalises gender-based violence. It is imperative that the legal system takes femicide and all it encompasses seriously for things to move forward in the future.

Our attention should not only be focused on Latin America, however. Femicide is quickly becoming another epidemic right here in the UK. According to the Femicide Census, 1425 women were killed between 2009-2018 (an average of one woman falling victim to femicide every three days). In these cases, 30% of the victims had already reported situations of abuse to the police. Evidently, authorities have failed to protect women against widespread femicide. While machismo is known as a Latin American culture, this hypermasculinity certainly exists in the United Kingdom and plays a large role the surge of femicides in recent years. In March, the femicide of Sarah Everard by a member of the Metropolitan Police was reported nationwide. The police officer used his power as an authority figure to kidnap, assault and brutally murder Sarah Everard. The murder of Sabina Nessa in September is another appalling account of femicide in the UK. Sabina Nessa was walking through a public space when she was attacked and killed by an unknown man. The cases of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa reached media outlets and sparked international outcry,  there are so many other women who fall victim to femicide and do not receive the same level of interest.

We are facing a growing problem worldwide that needs immediate attention. The safety of women from femicide and other forms of violence is paramount. According to Karen Ingala Smith, creator of Counting Dead Women, there have been 110 femicide victims in the UK so far this year. These statistics are awful. Authorities need to focus more on femicide to stop this extreme violence happening and obtain justice for the many thousands of victims worldwide. Many organisations have been set up in recent years, including Gendes in Mexico City, which aims to change how men view their own masculinities. Jose Alberto, a participant of the Gendes’ awareness programmes explains that the programme helped him to understand that this actions were threatening and abusive. He went on to talk to his colleagues about the need for men to take responsibility for their actions. Being met with a cold reception at work, he turned his attention to educating his young son about the effects of “Machismo”. We are in dire need of men like Jose Alberto globally – men who are open to listening, learning, and taking action. Here in the UK, organisations like White Ribbon are working alongside men to bring an end to violence against women. White Ribbon engages with men and boys and teaches them about violence against women, and why men need to speak up about this major issue.

Clearly, education is vital for enacting change worldwide and without the willingness to learn, the femicide crisis will not go away any time soon.

If you would like to learn more about femicide:

Some Days are for Hope

Image by E.J Wolfson on Unsplash

Written by Jack McGrath

Yesterday, the 25th of September 2021, the Hazara community and their friends commemorated all those who were murdered, sold into slavery, and brutalised during the 1890-1893 Hazara genocide which was perpetrated by the then emir of Afghanistan Abdur Rahman Khan. It is a genocide that continues to be disturbingly unacknowledged; most plainly so on the international stage.

In Afghanistan the Hazaras are a double-minority, being predominantly Shi’a Muslims (making them outliers in a predominantly Sunni nation) with central Asian features. In the particular case of 1890-1893 genocide, it was the fact that the Hazaras are predominantly Shi’a which Abdur Rahman Khan exploited to declare jihad against the Hazara and bring Hazarajat, the homeland of the Hazara, firmly under his control. Estimates suggest that 62% of the Hazara population were massacred between 1890-1893. In the same period, thousands upon thousands of Hazara men, women, and children were sold into slavery. In Qandahar, a tax of ten percent was levied on soldiers buying married women or young girls – the revenue on the tax was 70,000 rupees despite the fact that women and young girls were usually sold for between 60-120 rupees.* What is more, aside from being massacred and enslaved, Hazaras were forcibly displaced, their land having been confiscated and distributed to other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, the 1890-1893 genocide set something of an awful trend. Since 1893, the Hazara people have been repressed by the communist Khalq government, the Mujahadeen, and the Taliban. In 1998 alone, anywhere from 2,000-20,000 Hazara were massacred by Taliban forces in Mazar-i-Sharif. At the time, Mulla Manon Niazi, the then governor of Mazar-i-Sharif, was reported to have said:

“Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shia. They are infidels…If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan…Wherever you [Hazaras] go we will catch you. If you go up, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair.”

Following the massacre, proper burial was forbidden by the Taliban. The dead lay on the streets for weeks. 

At this point, I do want to make one clarificatory note. The nature of this brief article necessitates a focus on the plight of the Hazara: but it is important to never lose sight of the fact that the Hazara are not just their plight. They are poets and historians [see, Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara], actors [see, Atossa Leoni], singers [see, Sarwar Sarkhosh], journalists [see, Malek Shafi’i], and much, much more. And, beyond their achievements, they have a deep and rich culture (to see that, I would recommend reading Mousavi’s The Hazaras of Afghanistan).

That said, what I think is perhaps most tragic of all in this, is the profound silence currently echoing around the international stage in the face of the forthcoming and certain persecution that the Hazara will face under the resumed Taliban rule in Afghanistan. There is no doubt our governments are aware of what is about to unfold. Their silence is a choice. And the Taliban have not changed – at least, not in any way that matters. Suggesting otherwise is just the crudest form of naivety. Crane-hangings, kidnappings, torture: one does not have to look far beyond mainstream news to see any of these things in today’s Afghanistan. 

So, one thinks about imploring our governments, demanding them, to work toward cohesive international efforts to minimise the scale of the current and forthcoming atrocities in Afghanistan. But what is the point? What care do our governments have for the persecuted and downtrodden elsewhere? Very little, I would wager. Remember, their silence is a choice. They have decided upon appeasement.

But surrender to a darker world cannot be the answer. If our leaders are unwilling and uncaring, then the work for a better future belongs with us. We need to shake off the shackles of a rotten political class and will into power new leaders: leaders of nations who see themselves first and foremost as members of the international community. The one grounded not in particularity but in universality, in humanity. To do this, we need to continue becoming more educated, more political, more ambitious, and more human. And we need to do it together, against the established political order. This will be no easy or simple task. But no mountains, no matter how great they may appear to be and no matter how deep their roots may sink into the earth, could possibly withstand the overwhelming force of the whole sea. 

No doubt, some will think these claims to be platitudinous. I agree. They are platitudinous. I do not think I am saying anything new, here. But that was never the point of this brief article. This article is about reflecting for a moment on our past – in particular, the past of the Hazara people in Afghanistan – and using that reflection to look ahead to something brighter. It is a reminder that misery can always point beyond itself to hope. And I want us to remember, and never forget, where hope lies. 

So, admittedly, I haven’t presented anything close to a route to an answer to the issues that face anybody; the Hazara people least of all. But what I have done, I think, is present an inkling of hope: hope that one day we can all stand together united under an honestly international community. And some days aren’t for answers or strategies. Some days are for hope. 

*Figure from the Siraj al-Tawarikh by Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara.

Adieu to Afghanistan: US veterans react to Biden’s decision to withdraw troops

Image by Pixabay via Pexels

Written by MacKenZie Rumage

On 13 April, President Biden announced that he would pull the remaining 2,500 American troops out of Afghanistan by a date none other than the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, carried out by al-Qaeda and spearheaded by the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Originally, he meant to stick to the 1 May deadline former President Trump set but it became clear that the peace talks between the Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani, the United States and the Taliban that have been going on since December 2019 would not conclude by then.

Originally, the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to drive the Taliban out of power in order to deprive al-Qaeda of a foothold in the country. ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, as the initial invasion was called, was meant to not only avenge the 9/11 attacks but to take part in a larger ‘war on terror’, as former President George W Bush coined it. Initially, the American public greatly supported the invasion because they thought the masterminds behind 9/11 would be swiftly brought to justice. However, it would be ten more years before bin Laden was killed by Seal Team Six in Pakistan.

In his announcement, Biden said, ‘We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for withdrawal, and expecting a different result.’ This may sound like Biden admitting defeat. But it also sounds like what has been clear to many for years: the war stopped being winnable a long time ago. He continued, ‘I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. […] I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.’ Over one hundred thousand people have died in the war, including nearly fifty thousand civilians.

There has been much discussion among American politicians about the merits of withdrawing and the grave risks. Those opposed to the withdrawal argue that since the Taliban currently control more area than they have over the past twenty years, Afghanistan could once again become a ‘terrorist haven’, making the United States only more at risk of another 9/11-style attack. They also argue that the headway the United States gained, such as increased freedoms for women and girls and tenuous peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, could be reversed. In other words, despite twenty years of American presence, Afghanistan may not be strong enough for a full withdrawal of American troops. Those who support the withdrawal argue that the sheer length of the war is reason enough to leave. Twenty years is enough, if not far too long. Kids who were born in 2003 — long after the initial invasion — can now fight in the country their home has been at war with their entire lives.

For American veterans, however, reactions to the withdrawal decision have been less clear-cut. According to the Washington Post, nearly eight hundred thousand people served in Afghanistan in the United States military, thirty thousand of which were deployed at least five times. Loren Crowe, who was deployed to Afghanistan twice in the army, told the Post that he wasn’t sure how the military could stay, but was concerned about what withdrawal meant for the Afghans themselves. ‘There are forty million people in that country. They’re going to bear all costs of this decision.’

As combat veterans, people like Crowe understand the costs of war — and the costs of withdrawing — more acutely than anyone else, including the politicians and top brass of the military. They make the most important decisions about the war, but do not have to live with those decisions the same way servicemembers do. Felix Figueroa, who was deployed to Afghanistan with the Marine four times, told the Military Times part of him was saddened, because he knew how American military backup helped the Afghan commandos he became friends with. But at the same time, ‘no amount of [American] money or years spent training and advising is going to change the systematic problems of tribalism, religious radicalism and corruption crippling the country. I feel it’s time that Afghanistan and the Afghans figure it out on their own.’ In other words, America has outlived their usefulness in Afghanistan. If they couldn’t help to fix the country in twenty years, how much good could any more time in the country do?

Amber Chase, who served three deployments as a mortuary affairs soldier who prepared bodies to be returned home, felt that the withdrawal ‘makes every life we lost over there pointless.’ This sentiment makes sense too: if the United States left Afghanistan in arguably worse shape than when they arrived, did those killed in Afghanistan die in vain?

This all goes back to the question of whether the war itself was worth it. That’s not an easy question to answer, and everyone will have their own opinions. And it may be years before anyone can answer with any certainty. There are too many uncertainties, too many unknowns. What will happen to the women and girls who have made such progress and gained more freedoms than would have been imaginable twenty years ago? Will President Ashraf Ghani be able to keep his precarious hold on power? Are the Afghan security forces strong enough to hold their own against the Taliban, who believe they have already won the war?But one thing is for certain, as it has been for a long time: this war was not going to have a happy ending. No matter how long it went on, no matter whether Afghanistan became a strong democracy or a failed state, the end of the war was never going to be a celebration. Too much money was spent, too many lives were lost, and too many years were spent on fighting an amorphous enemy known as ‘terrorism’ to ever give a satisfactory sense of justification or closure. And nobody in America knows that better than the veterans themselves. As Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine and intelligence officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan told The New York Times, ‘The people who served on the ground are the last people you need to tell that the war is going to end in tears.’

Tigray: A Violation of International Humanitarian Law?

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

By Sarah Rennie

An update: This article says that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea denied allegations of Eritrean forces’ involvement in the conflict in Tigray (a region in northern Ethiopia). However, Ahmed acknowledged in March 2021 that Eritrean forces were involved. And on 16 April 2021, Eritrea admitted to the UN Security Council (and posted a letter online) that Eritrean forces were involved in the conflict and would start withdrawing their troops, simultaneous with the withdrawing of Ethiopian troops from the Tigray region.

Since November 2020, the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray has been suffering through a brutal and inhumane conflict. With an estimated 70,000 dead, 2.2 million internally displaced, and 4.5 million in urgent need of food, it is becoming a concern that the atrocities committed in Tigray are violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and that the victims of this conflict require immediate assistance.

The Tigray conflict stems from an already tense relationship between the Tigrayan ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), who are under direction from Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. Abiy came to power in 2018, and reshuffled the government coalition into a single party – the Prosperity Party. The TPFL refused to join and continued to govern their own region, leading to each side seeing the other as illegitimate. In August 2020, national elections were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that several opposition parties condemned, including the TPLF. Consequently, the TPLF decided to hold its own regional elections in September.

The Tigray War started against this backdrop on November 4th, 2020 when armed TPLF forces attacked the ENDF Northern Command Headquarters in Mekelle. The TPLF called their attack “pre-emptive”, as they believed an attack by federal troops was imminent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Abiy ordered a military offensive against the TPLF in retaliation. The conflict has since developed and troops from neighbouring Eritrea have become involved, fighting on the side of the Ethiopian government. Yet, both Ethiopia and Eritrea itself deny allegations of Eritrea’s involvement.

What cannot be denied, however, is the severe amount of suffering in Tigray. At the outbreak of the conflict, there were restrictions on communication and almost all journalists were banned from the region. Subsequently, it has been difficult to obtain accurate accounts of what was unfolding. Now, as information and reports are finally being shared, the reality of the conflict is coming into focus.

Though available interviews and articles are limited, it is clear that most of the occurrences in Tigray are far from legal by International Humanitarian Law standards. IHL seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting those who do not partake in conflict. It protects civilians, medical and military personnel, and those who no longer participate in conflict (such as wounded combatants and prisoners of war). It is forbidden to “kill or wound” anyone unable to fight. Furthermore, medical personnel, supplies, ambulances and hospitals must also be protected. Civilians protected under IHL must also be allowed “food, shelter and medical care”.  So what does this mean for Tigray?

On November 28th 2020, the historical town of Axum was host to a 24-hour killing spree by Eritrean forces, sparked by a prior attack by the Tigrayan militia. Between December 2020 and February 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 Axum victims and their relatives. These interviews were conducted over the phone, due to government restrictions on Tigray. Interviewees “consistently identified Eritrean troops” by their vehicles, uniforms and the dialect of Tigrinya, disproving aforementioned claims of Eritrean involvement. Human Rights Watch estimates that 200 civilians were killed that night alone. Clearly, both sides of the Tigrayan Conflict are at fault for the atrocities that they commit, but the focus must be turned to the victims of such atrocities. The international community are greatly concerned that the Tigray Conflict is in violation of IHL, and the Axum attacks prove these concerns to be true. The death toll estimated by Human Rights Watch references killings of civilians, showing that these are extrajudicial killings of non-combatants carried out by Eritrean forces, and therefore illegal according to IHL. Further violence against innocent residents of Tigray has been disclosed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with more than 136 cases of sexual assault reported in hospitals in December and January alone, and fears that the real figures are much higher.

It has also been widely documented that starvation has been used as a tactic against citizens in Tigray. Omna Tigray (a global nonprofit that advocates for an end to the Tigrayan conflict) reported that the Abiy administration blocked access to electricity, aid and food for those desperately in need. This is another blatant violation of IHL, resulting in the suffering of millions of Tigrayan civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated on 18th November 2020 that “…three ambulances run by the Ethiopia Red Cross were attacked”. This is a worrying account demonstrating that the government is not protecting medical personnel, as IHL asserts they should be. Additionally, hospitals have either been looted by government and Eritrean troops, or overrun – a situation made more serious by the threat of COVID-19.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, has expressed concern over the humanitarian conditions in Tigray, and has called for unrestricted access to refugee camps in order to provide acutely needed assistance. The G7 has also stated concerns about human rights abuses and war crimes. Yet, on 6th March, the United Nations Security Council cancelled plans to issue a statement calling for an end to violence in Tigray due to China and Russia’s opposition. Additionally, the international community has urged the African Union to apply more pressure on the Ethiopian government to pacify the situation. On 11th March, the Chairperson of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, met with Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Ato Demeke Mekonnen, to discuss the engagement of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in the investigation of war crimes in Tigray. Faki stated that the Ethiopian government was ready to cooperate and engage with the African Union. However, reports of some of the most severe fighting since November in southern Tigray came out the next week. To date, there has been no update on the status of talks between the African Union and the Ethiopian government. 

The international community is often criticised, quite justifiably, for inappropriately intervening in the affairs of African countries. Yet, there have been numerous instances in which international inaction has exacerbated unnecessary suffering, like in Tigray. More must be done to ensure the survival of the millions of innocent civilians in need of food, medical attention and shelter. It is imperative that the Ethiopian government cooperates with international organisations and allows access to Tigray and its citizens. It is also important that more people worldwide continue to raise awareness of this brutal conflict. Only then can the victims receive the help and attention that they desperately need.