Spectator racism is still rife in Australia’s major football codes – new research shows it may even be getting worse

The annual Indigenous rounds in the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

These events highlight the contributions of Indigenous players and aim to promote cultural awareness and foster reconciliation.

Some non-Indigenous sports fans, however, do not appreciate these initiatives. Some, in fact, continue to hurl bigoted abuse at players.

While many people would assume spectator racism is becoming rarer, our new study suggests the opposite is true among Australia’s major male-dominated sporting codes.

Spectator racism may be getting worse

Some Australian football spectators use the stadium to vent hostile attitudes towards people of colour, whether Indigenous, Pacific Islander, African or Asian.

This realisation prompted us to conduct the first large-scale study of spectator racism in the three major men’s leagues.

In 2021, we surveyed 2,047 participants from across the AFL, NRL and A-League Men, focusing on those who self-identified as white. We wanted to gather insights on racism as they witnessed and understood it while attending matches.

We found sobering evidence of the persistence of racism within these spectator communities, despite efforts by sports to combat it: 50% of AFL fans, 36% of NRL spectators and 27% of A-League Men fans had witnessed racist behaviour during their lifetimes.

We asked respondents when they had witnessed racism and, as the table below shows, fans of all codes reported they had seen it at greater levels in the past two years compared to periods before this time.

This finding suggests fan racism is getting worse in all three sports and in the A-League Men, this reported racism is growing at the fastest rate of the three codes.

Acknowledging the problem

Spectator racism has long been an issue in Australian men’s sports.

National sport governing bodies acknowledge there is a problem, but have for many years struggled to effectively combat it, either failing to respond resolutely or doing so too slowly.

In 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission provided sports with guidelines for addressing spectator racism, and since then penalties for transgressions have become more consistent.

However, poor behaviour from some fans has hardly disappeared.

Our new research, published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, found spectator racism continues to be present in three major Australian men’s leagues: the AFL, NRL and A-League Men.

The impact on athletes

The impact of fan racism is brutal for players.

In recent years, Indigenous footballers Adam Goodes and Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker have borne the brunt of vitriol like this.

Sydney champion Adam Goodes says racism was part of the reason he retired from the game.

By comparison, the A-League Men has featured few Indigenous players, but racism towards athletes from migrant backgrounds has certainly been obvious, along with neo-Nazi expressions of white supremacy.

Fan explanations for racism

Many survey respondents contended that spectator racism is learned behaviour, passed down through families or like-minded fans. In that sense, racism is normalised, especially in public places like sports stadiums where barrackers may feel anonymous.

Most of those surveyed strongly criticised racial prejudice, acknowledging Australia’s history of racism and ongoing examples of bigotry at sport events, with some pointing to even worse behaviour among fans online via social media.

Some fans who opposed racism explained it as a moral failing of individuals, whom they perceived to be “bad apples”. But by focusing solely on individuals, they overlooked wider social influences.

Racism is acquired behaviour, not just a personal choice, and it arises via institutions such as sport and social practices like barracking at the footy.

Some respondents from our study were comfortable with “casual bigotry” whereby racist comments made in the “heat of the moment” are deemed “banter”. They seemed unaware this permissive attitude allows racist discourses to remain alive.

A minority of respondents were unfazed by any of this, freely admitting their own racist views, declaring a belief that sports, and society, are best served by white power.

Sport’s response to racism

In the football codes, there is now better awareness of what constitutes racist barracking at games. Greater media coverage of racist incidents, especially via its capture on digital devices, has improved the chance of offenders being exposed, along with potential consequences.

Just as importantly, the three football leagues have improved their detection measures, such as by anonymous reporting hotlines within stadiums. Indeed, our study showed most fans are aware of mechanisms to report racist (or other discriminatory) behaviour.

Yet, despite a significant proportion of our survey respondents indicating they had observed inappropriate crowd conduct, just 3% of AFL fans, 2% of NRL fans, and 1% of A-League Men supporters reported using the hotlines.

So, there is a gap between some white fans witnessing and reporting racist incidents.

Therefore, while sports leagues have introduced penalties for racism, the effectiveness of these measures is limited by their reliance on witness responses and the complexity of observers providing proof.

What more can be done?

In the context of anti-racism and Australian society, the fight against bigotry must not be left to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Prime responsibility lies with white Australians who, after all, are generally privileged to not be objects of racial bigotry. Therefore, white sports fans who reject the ideology of white supremacy, like racist barracking at a game, have the opportunity to demonstrate a sense of solidarity with those who have been the subject of abuse.

It is often said education can alter racist attitudes. After all, if racism can be learned, surely it can be unlearned.

That process is certainly worth pursuing but in the short term, the imposition of consequences for inappropriate fan conduct is vital.

The football codes are finally getting serious about penalties, with lengthy or even life-time bans.

What is urgently needed, though, is a greater commitment by fans, especially white fans, to report racism when they observe it. Otherwise they’re giving a free kick to bigots. Läs mer…

Horn of Africa droughts: how a network of groundwater bores could help – study

The Horn of Africa recently suffered its worst drought in almost half a century, and its sixth failed rainfall season in a row.

Fifty million people were directly affected and 100 million more were indirectly affected. About 20 million people risked acute food insecurity and potential famine, 4.4 million required humanitarian aid, and refugees fleeing drought and floods numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

To help solve these problems, the governments of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Sudan and Uganda, and three United Nations agencies, launched the Groundwater Access Facility on 7 May. It aims to develop a plan to extract millions of cubic kilometres of deep groundwater.

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I research sustainable development, poverty alleviation and ways to adapt to climate change. This new initiative will focus critical attention and resources on water scarcity in the region. Together with better drought forecasting, this can help the Horn of Africa build resilience against future droughts and promote sustainable development opportunities.

Based on my co-authored research on groundwater in the region, I propose that a strategic network of deep groundwater bores (boreholes) be considered at regional scale to support both acute humanitarian relief efforts and longer term drought resilience building.

The problem

Beyond the humanitarian crises, the recurring droughts in the Horn of Africa cause spikes in food prices, reduce gross domestic product across the region, and intensify insecurity and conflict risk. Recent prolonged droughts have been followed by flooding, which can displace entire communities.

The world’s largest population of nomadic herders lives in the Horn of Africa. They make up half the population in some countries. The herders are increasingly chasing rains that never come, or come all at once. Smallholder farmers are also affected and crops fail. Over 40 million people in regional border areas have little or no water infrastructure.

Studies by institutions such as the British Geological Survey, United States Geological Survey and World Bank Group have confirmed voluminous resources across sub-Saharan Africa. Based on our review of this information, we believe a network of deep groundwater bores can work in the Horn of Africa.

Groundwater to the rescue

Groundwater supplies half of all drinking water and approximately one-third of irrigation and industry water in the world. Unlike surface water (rivers, streams and lakes) and shallower aquifers, deeper groundwater resources may present climate resilient, unpolluted and plentiful supplies of water in times of drought.

Read more:
Groundwater can prevent drought emergencies in the Horn of Africa. Here’s how

In the Horn of Africa, studies confirm that deep groundwater is often available in drought hotspots. Recurrent drought hotspots are well-known. Droughts can be increasingly predicted and groundwater infrastructure prepared in advance. Where it is refilled from time to time, using groundwater can be sustainable.

Recent reinterpretations of old well data indicates that about 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of rechargeable fresh groundwater exist in Somalia. Nearby Tanzania has a deep aquifer, estimated to have enough water for two million people.

Groundwater can also support emergency drought relief operations as it can be up to 50 times cheaper to supply to communities than water delivered by trucks.

Borehole water could solve the Horn of Africa’s water supply problems.
Guido Dingemans/Die Eindredactie/Getty Images

The network of deep bores could be a mixture of supply to communities with the water they need every day or for drought emergencies when other water supplies run out, dependent on factors such as resource sustainability and local preferences.

The communities who are most affected by drought in the Horn of Africa, and their seasonal movements, are also well known. This means they can be more effectively supported by networked groundwater supplies.

Working together across borders

Drilling down to this water and extracting it is not easy. It requires detailed knowledge of the local hydrogeology, and specialised drilling and pumping equipment. So it makes sense for the five affected countries to share knowledge and resources.

Dr Zeynu Ummer of the United Nations Development Programme’s Resilience Hub For Africa seen at the launch.
Temidayo Ibitoye/UNDP

The Groundwater Access Facility will bring countries together to collaborate on groundwater mapping and data sharing. It could also look at ways to use new and advanced renewable energy and water treatment technologies and how to secure climate finance to invest in the project.

It is vital that local communities be included in the planning, design, running and maintenance of the boreholes. Working with hydro-geologists and other experts, communities can help decide the best locations for the boreholes.

Deep borehole development should form part of managing water resources more holistically. For example, in places where flood follows drought, plans may be made to capture and store floodwater.

Deep boreholes could be connected to smallholder farming projects to support emergency food and feed production. The boreholes could also become assets around which to coordinate emergency drought relief efforts and future resilience building programmes.

Precedents for accessing deep groundwater exist globally and lessons on collaborative governance may be gained from existing regional initiatives on management of major rivers.

The way forward

Many questions remain. For example, how would deep boreholes affect the movement and decisions of nomadic herders or displaced communities? Could boreholes cause conflict in already fragile settings? Should fossil (non-renewable) aquifers be accessed? Will the borehole water need to be purified? How can overpumping and other problems be prevented?

Because drought knows no boundaries, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Sudan and Uganda must work together to answer these questions and to create drought resilience and sustainable development opportunities across the whole region. The Groundwater Access Facility is a platform for them to plan how to
manage groundwater in the region sustainably. A strategic network of deep groundwater bores may support such potentially transformative regional ambitions.

_Dr Jude Cobbing, advisor on integrated water resource management, Save the Children, and Andrew Harper, special adviser on climate action, United Nations Refugees Agency, contributed to this article. Some research for this article was undertaken during a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency. _ Läs mer…

Men still dominate Uganda’s party politics – women’s participation is mostly cosmetic

Electoral gender quotas in Uganda – first introduced in 1989 – have increased women’s numbers in Uganda’s parliament to 34%. Today there are 189 women out of 557 members of parliament.

But women politicians in Uganda continue to be restricted to minority representation. They are constantly battling stereotypes that seek to maintain the status quo of male dominance in political spaces. The electorate has additionally grown accustomed to believing that since women have seats reserved for them, they should stay out of the race for open seats.

One of the reasons for this continued marginalisation is that the country’s political parties have done little to empower women. Yet they are the first hurdle that women politicians have to clear, not only to get into parliament but to become effective.

The reality is that political party affiliation provides one of the most viable avenues for women’s entry into politics – the alternative would be to vie as an independent candidates with no affiliation to a political party. Party support provides the much-needed financial resources for successful campaigning that women are normally unable to access. Political parties therefore act as gatekeepers by determining who gets into political office.

Therefore, women – like men – will tend to gravitate towards a party that can provide the financial resources needed to campaign and get into office. In Uganda, this tends to be the National Resistance Movement. The ruling party has been in power for over 30 years, and because of its popularity and apparent control of state resources, it presents the most viable path to parliament.

I am a scholar of parliamentary politics in Uganda, with a focus on women’s participation. In a recent paper, I set out to study the country’s political parties to identify women’s place in them. I examined the power structures of six of the 26 registered political parties using their documents, such as constitutions, that showed the party structures. I studied the National Resistance Movement, Democratic Party, Forum for Democratic Change, Alliance for National Transformation, Uganda People’s Congress and the National Unity Platform.

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My findings show that political parties have a long way to go to improve the position of women in their ranks. While most political party constitutions have a 40% minimum quota for women’s representation in their formal structure, none has made good on this commitment in the nearly two decades that Uganda has been a multiparty state. My study found that women’s representation averaged 30% and below.

I also found that Uganda’s multiparty arrangement has tokenised women in the political system. Women’s presence in political parties is meant to depict a semblance of gender equality. However, there is limited commitment to ensuring that barriers against women’s effective political participation are addressed. This significantly “others” women, rather than granting them active participation.

For instance, in Uganda’s 2006 election – the first under the country’s new multiparty dispensation – the National Resistance Movement, the ruling party, politicised the quota system on the campaign trail. Its leaders emphasised that women owed the party gratitude for helping to increase their involvement in parliamentary politics.

In my view this propagated women’s dependency on the regime and painted them as victims of patronage.

Inbuilt inequality

In political parties, unequal gender relations are visible in their structures and processes. The tasks and positions meant for men and women are different. There is a division of labour, with the position of party president, for instance, often the preserve of men, while women deputise them.

In the National Resistance Movement, the second vice-chairperson has always been a woman. The party’s overall structure, however, largely remains gendered and focused on men. In its central executive committee, for instance, there is only one woman out of nine members.

Read more:
Burundi’s quota for women in politics has had mixed results, but that’s no reason to scrap it

Party structures also reinforce traditional belief systems when it comes to the acceptable behaviour of a politician. Women’s leagues or wings that are meant to advance women’s political participation and advocate for women’s issues within the party are often used for care or social issues.

The Ugandan case exemplifies the secondary status of women in political parties.

Across my survey, while women’s leagues were provided for in the party structures, their duties and rights were not elaborated on. In most cases, their activities were managed and approved by the party executive. They were mainly used for logistical support and to mobilise the women constituency during campaigns. And in cases where party leaders meet only quarterly or twice a year, it’s unlikely they would have the time to thoroughly interrogate, or even include, women’s issues on the agenda. Läs mer…

Banning offenders from changing their names doesn’t make us safer

The government of British Columbia recently introduced a bill to ban people convicted of serious offences from legally changing their name. The proposed amendment to the province’s Name Act would also prohibit those found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder from changing their name.

The government announced the move after media reports that Allan Schoenborn legally changed his name to Ken Johnson. Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible for the deaths of his children in 2010 because of a delusional disorder, and was placed at a psychiatric hospital.

The amendment bill states that a person is not allowed to change their name if:

They have been convicted of a prescribed offence;
They’ve been found to be not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder;
Or if they’ve been found to be a dangerous or long-term offender.

The ban will also apply to children under 18 who have been convicted of a perscribed offence and are sentenced as adults. This proposed ban is unconstitutional. It diverges from the justice system’s mandate of rehabilitation and does not make us safer.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix introduced amendments to the province’s Name Act after Allan Schoenborn legally changed his name.

Name change bans

Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have banned people convicted of certain sex crimes from changing their names. Ontario has a bill in the standing committee phase and Manitoba has a proposed bill. Alberta extended the ban to dangerous and long-term offenders in 2021.

Under section 15(1) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,

“every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

B.C.’s proposed ban has a host of implications for the Charter rights of a wide range of people. This includes people not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder, meaning they were not found guilty. It impacts convicted or not criminally responsible people who are trans seeking a name change to reflect their gender identity. It impacts Indigenous peoples, who are hyper-imprisoned in Canada, who want to reclaim Indigenous names. Facilitating Indigenous name reclamation is listed under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 17.

Children sentenced as adults have much potential to live long, meaningful lives post-release, but would also be unable to change their name. Children are more likely to engage in risky and impulsive behaviours due to human brain development. It also has implications for convicted gang members trying to break ties or prevent retribution, and people seeking to change their last name after getting married or as part of other religious or spiritual commitment ceremonies.

Undermining reintegration

Changing identity is part of reintegration for many. Desistance means developing a crime-free identity to live a meaningful life as a contributing member of society. It entails recovering one’s “core good self” and constructing a positive narrative about the future. It also means “generativity”; this is, giving back to society.

Desistance has important connections to preventing recidivism. Barriers to desistance include the difficulty of gaining education, employment, housing and social acceptance. Banning name changes may further isolate convicted people or people found not criminally responsible, making it more difficult or impossible to reintegrate into society.

Changing identity is part of reintegration for many, and means means developing a crime-free identity to live a meaningful life.

Canada’s justice system is mandated to support rehabilitation and reintegration. The vast majority of people in prison have a release date and will return to the community after serving time. B.C.’s proposed bill extends punishment beyond the formal sentence, and works against purported goals of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Banning legal name changes will not make us safer. Canada’s criminal legal system has checks in place to assess the potential risk an individual could pose to the public upon and after release, including the parole system. Name changes also do not impact a person’s criminal record, which allows employers, schools and other organizations to learn about someone’s criminal history.

Supporting desistance

Rather than banning name changes in an effort to seek public safety, the focus should be on supporting desistance. To do so means helping people to rejoin society, including wrap-around supports for people who have been convicted or not criminally responsible.

For example, the non-profit Circles of Support and Accountability is focused on providing social support to help people rejoin communities, but only exists in 15 locations throughout Canada. The program has contributed to a 71 per cent reduction in all forms of recidivism, showing that guided community support greatly improves outcomes for former prisoners.

Rather than ban name changes in an effort to seek accountability, governments must invest in restorative and transformative justice. Restorative justice focuses on rehabilitation of the person who did harm and reconciliation for their victims. It centres on repairing harm, the potential for healing, meaningful accountability and preventing further offending.

What meaningful accountability looks like is determined with victims, and the person who did harm is required to acknowledge or accept responsibility for their actions in order to access these programs.

Overall, name change bans are a step in the wrong direction. To support public safety and accountability, greater investment should be placed in community supported reintegration and restorative and transformative justice options. Läs mer…

British Columbia needs a unified response to respond to the biodiversity crisis

From massive kelp forests to monumental old-growth on land, British Columbia’s biodiversity — which is unrivalled in Canada — provides an array of cultural, economic, social and other benefits. B.C.’s wide-ranging ecological zones are home to over 70 per cent of Canada’s mammal, bird and non-vascular plant species.

The province is ostensibly proud of having a healthy environment, with its mottos “Splendour without Diminishment” and “Beautiful British Columbia” promoting its natural beauty. Yet despite this awareness, the province is hindered by a fragmented approach to biodiversity management.

B.C. possesses considerable knowledge resources with a wealth of top biodiversity scientists, biodiversity-based industries and leading conservation organizations. It is also home to over 200 First Nations with traditional knowledge systems closely tied with nature. However, current conservation initiatives lack co-ordination and there is no independent organization or provincial governing body overseeing the many actions underway. This must change.

Unco-ordinated approach

The lack of co-ordination in B.C. makes it difficult to obtain a clear picture of ecosystem health across the province. This murky picture has negative implications for efforts to quantify, forecast and adjust to biodiversity changes — with further knock-on repercussions for efforts to hold people and organizations accountable for infractions.

For example, when a species is listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act, the first step for legislated action by the province is to map locations of habitats that are necessary for the species’ recovery. But, in part due to poor biodiversity inventories and low engagement across sectors, this information has been regularly delayed, by an average of 9.8 years. This is a costly time frame for an endangered species.

We cannot manage what we do not monitor and this challenge will only get worse as climate change shifts the range of many species.

A Great-Horned owl nestling is spotted in a garry oak tree as the adult teaches their young to fly in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, in March 2023.

Biodiversity work in B.C. is currently being performed by a passionate and engaged group of stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, academics, First Nations, local interest groups, federal and provincial agents as well as private consultancies.

The breadth of work is vast and, despite having so many different groups involved, the goals are often aligned. Yet despite having similar goals, shared methods and the potential for combining knowledge across projects, fragmentation across individuals and groups persists.

The fragmented nature of B.C. biodiversity work is a missed opportunity that can lead to gaps and blind spots that ultimately undermine action. Potential interconnected threats like diseases, invasive species, ecological impacts of new developments and a range of other issues may be missed.

Biodiversity loss is too important to be detected by chance; it should be monitored in a systematic, open and inclusive way.

New data

New technologies are vastly increasing our capacity to monitor biodiversity.

Advances in environmental genomics and the discovery that organisms leave traces of their DNA in the environment means biodiversity now can be assessed from samples of water, soil and even the air. NGOs, Indigenous stewards and conservation groups in B.C. are already using environmental DNA (fragments of DNA floating freely in the environment) to track biodiversity change.

Remote automatic cameras deployed in a network can quickly and continuously record the distribution of certain species. What’s more, the data from these cameras can be processed quickly using community science web-based platforms quickly using crowd-sourced knowledge and artificial intelligence. Satellite data can reveal the status of forests across the province.

We are on the cusp of a deluge in biodiversity data, but data on its own is not knowledge.

A video overviewing the important work of Indigenous guardians across Canada and B.C.

To translate this data into actionable insights, collaboration and co-ordination is key. We need to work together to share knowledge and capacity for understanding change. User-friendly platforms are needed to make the data accessible, but it is equally important to integrate it with existing knowledge held by local communities and Indigenous groups.

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Establishing a system of natural capital accounts would provide a clear picture of the value our ecosystems provide empowering decision-makers to understand the economic and social consequences of their choices.

Meeting our commitments

In December 2022, Canada hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montréal. In response to the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, Canada committed to protecting 30 per cent of biodiversity by 2030. Canada also committed to developing a plan in response to the framework’s four goals and 23 targets. Yet co-ordinated action is needed at the provincial level to achieve this.

B.C.’s draft framework for biodiversity and ecosystem health is a positive step with its emphasis on “connecting initiatives,” “providing accessible and credible data” and “fostering innovation, skills, and training” — but much more work is still needed.

A moose munches on leaves in a nursery in Midway, B.C., on May 16, 2018.

We need a body that draws together independent expertise in biodiversity and social sciences with policymakers and interest groups. Importantly, this body would need to be transparent, track progress and provide research and synthesized information to support informed decisions.

Crucially, any effort to co-ordinate biodiversity work in B.C. must inclusively engage with the many ongoing initiatives in the province to ensure it is adding value.

We may not have to look far for an effective model. Québec recently launched Biodiversité Québec — a partnership across government, scientific and Indigenous partners — to create an integrated monitoring system for nature.

Drawing inspiration from such initiatives and its own capacity, B.C. can rise to the challenge of biodiversity loss. With co-ordination and sustained support of expertise, B.C. can set clear goals, leverage existing initiatives, ensure efforts are aligned and results are communicated and ultimately, ensure that B.C.’s natural splendour remains undiminished. Läs mer…

Cyberflashing is a form of gendered sexual violence that must be taken seriously

Sexting — sending sexually suggestive or explicit messages and images — is now a widespread practice, and can be a healthy way to express and explore sexuality. However, there is a need to distinguish between consensual sexting and forms of sexual harassment like cyberflashing.

Cyberflashing refers to the act of non-consensually sending sexual imagery (like nudes or “dick pics”) to another person. It is facilitated through communications technologies including text, AirDrop and social media applications like Snapchat and Tinder.

Similar to flashing — when a person unexpectedly and deliberately “flashes” their genitals to others — that occurs in person, cyberflashing involves an intrusive denial of autonomy and control. It can lead to people feeling distressed, objectified and unsafe.

And like flashing, which involves physical proximity to the person, cyberflashing can occur through location-specific technology like Apple’s AirDrop. A cyberflasher may also access further information about the recipient online, including their name and location.

Cyberflashing is often normalized and perceived as something to laugh off, but it is a form of gender-based sexual violence that must be taken seriously.

My research on technology-facilitated gender-based violence, including non-consensual sexual deepfakes, highlights the need for legal and societal responses to these emerging challenges.

Gendered targets

In 2018, Statistics Canada found that 11 per cent of women and six per cent of men aged 15 or older were sent unwanted sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages. For young people aged 15 to 24, that increased to 25 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men.

Cyberflashing studies from the United States and the United Kingdom suggest higher rates of cyberflashing, with women still being the most targeted.

While further intersectional data is not available for explicit images, generally women with disabilities, Indigenous women and bisexual women face a high prevalence of online harassment overall.

Cyberflashing can also occur alongside further forms of violence including stalking, sexual harassment and physical threats.

A short documentary by the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the increasing number of women cyberflashed by nearby strangers in public.

Violating impacts

The impacts of cyberflashing are compounded by contextual factors. In one case, a fire inspector in London, Ont., sent explicit photos to women he worked with. Another factor involves location: for instance, women in Montréal received sexually explicit images while riding the Metro, while British students were cyberflashed during university lectures.

A study of 2,045 women and 298 gay or bisexual men in the United States found that women reported cyberflashing as a predominantly negative experience that left them feeling grossed out, disrespected and violated.

The same study found that, although gay and bisexual men received high rates of cyberflashing, they reported more positive reactions, showing how gender and sexual orientation may impact experiences of violence. It is important to situate this finding in terms of unequal gender dynamics, social expectations that men should appreciate sexual advances and a broader culture wherein incidents of sexual violence against men who have sex with men are minimized.

The result of cyberflashing is women engaging in “safety work,” including restricting or changing their movements and communication. Such emotional and physical labour is time-consuming and can limit women’s participation in everyday life.

Rape culture

Cyberflashing reflects and reinforces rape culture wherein sexual violence is normalized and consent is viewed as unnecessary. There is an assumption in cyberflashing that the unsolicited sexual content will be positively received despite the lack of consent.

Protests in Canada have highlighted the harmful presence of rape culture and called for the end of rape myths.

When heterosexual men were asked what reaction they hoped for from the recipient when cyberflashing, the majority of them said that they were after a positive reactions like sexual excitement and attraction. A significant minority of men, however, sought negative reactions like shock, disgust and fear.

This frequent, mistaken belief from heterosexual men that there will be a positive reaction to cyberflashing may be because they are socialized to be sexually aggressive.

Beyond individual cyberflashing, rape culture in society more broadly results in belittling sexual violence and victim-blaming. This is reflected in advising women to simply ignore unwanted images and in the wrongful assumption that the person must have “asked” to be flashed.

Moving towards consent

Canada can address cyberflashing by exploring criminalization, a method already present in England, Wales, Scotland and Singapore.

Criminalization of cyberflashing serves as a deterrent by making it an illegal act with potential consequences. Currently in Canada, only individuals sending sexual content to youth under 18 may face criminal charges under child luring laws if done with the intent to commit an offence such as sexual exploitation, trafficking and indecent exposure.

However, criminalization is limited, given the lack of cyberflashing reporting. Survivors of sexual violence may also distrust the criminal justice system due to its harmful treatment of survivors, especially survivors who face structural oppressions including anti-Black racism and ableism.

A promising alternative to criminalization is transformative justice, an approach to addressing harm that focuses on healing, community accountability and societal change.

Another aspect of ending cyberflashing requires the participation of social media platforms, which can use technology, including artificial intelligence, to detect sexual content and block it unless the user decides to accept. This approach is used by Bumble’s Private Detector and Instagram’s Nudity Protection.

Finally, there is a need for sex-positive sex and tech safety education that differentiates sexting from sexual harassment like cyberflashing. Rather than stigmatizing sexting overall, age-appropriate practices should be promoted on how to meaningfully and consensually communicate about sex. Läs mer…

Why are grocery bills so high? A new study looks at the science behind food price reporting

Rising food costs are squeezing Canadians around the country. Nearly everyone is feeling the pinch, and it’s not just an inconvenience — high food prices are a major threat to food security for many Canadians. Understanding why food prices are so high and why they are changing is critical to the well-being of our society.

Unfortunately, consensus on why food price are so high is in short supply. Explanations given in reports like Canada’s Food Price Report and the news media range widely, from the war in Ukraine to supply chain issues to the carbon tax.

Each year it seems the key drivers change, and if the growing consumer boycott of Loblaw’s is any indication, consumers want better answers.

So, we completed a rigorous analysis of the most prominent reports that shape the narratives around food prices in Canada, including twelve years of Canada’s Food Price Reports and 39 reports from Statistics Canada. Our findings, which are peer reviewed and soon to be published in Canadian Food Studies, were both insightful and concerning.

Lacking scientific rigour

Our analysis found that most claims about food prices in these reports lack scientific rigour. Nearly two-thirds of the explanations for price changes given are not backed by evidence. Arguments about the causes of food inflation are frequently incomplete, neglecting to connect the dots between cause and effect.

For instance, reports may identify the influence of unfavourable weather, climate change or changing retail demand, but fail to elaborate how these translate into actual price increases at the till.

Understanding why food prices are so high and why they are changing is critical to the well-being of our society.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

British philosopher Stephen E. Toulmin published a simple approach for evaluating the quality of scientific arguments in 1958. In a nutshell, for a scientific argument to be complete, it needs to have three components: a claim, verifiable observations or data that provide grounds for that claim, and an explicit theory or assumption that links the data logically to the claim.

For scientific arguments to be rigorous, they should also back up the strength of their assumptions and qualify their claims by exploring reasonable counterarguments. However, most of the arguments in these reports fall short of this, failing even to provide basic evidence in support of their claims.

These reports are not scientific publications, but rather qualify as “grey literature” — information produced outside traditional academic publishing channels.

Nevertheless, they are published under the logos of academic institutions and government agencies. Given their prominence in Canadian media and policy, we believe it is important for the public to know that the arguments presented in these reports do not live up to scientific standards.

Overlooking key issues

While the reports do identify potential drivers of food prices, they have some noteworthy gaps.

While extreme weather events and climate change are sometimes offered as abstract reasons for food price increases, some major environmental issues, like biodiversity loss and collapsing fish stocks, do not appear in reports, despite a widespread understanding that they will impact food price and availability.

A breakdown of the drivers identified in food price reporting over the last 12 years.
(Pentz et al., Forthcoming), Author provided (no reuse)

These reports also rarely consider the decisions that grocers and other private sector entities have on food prices. Increased consolidation and concentration in the grocery sector is a structural issue that deserves scrutiny.

The bread price-fixing scandal a few years ago showed how a lack of competition enables price manipulation and hurts consumers. Canada’s Competition Bureau recently announced they are launching an investigation into the owners of Loblaws and Sobeys for alleged anti-competitive conduct.

In the United States, there is also strong evidence that the private sector has been profiteering on supply chain issues and inflation. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission likewise recently found that big grocers used the pandemic as a smokescreen to pad their profits at the public’s expense.

Read more:
Food giants reap enormous profits during times of crisis

With grocer profits expanding in Canada, too, it is fair to ask tough questions about how much grocers’ decisions are contributing to the pain at the till.

In our analysis, only three per cent of the over 200 explanations for food price changes point to grocer actions or other agency in the private sector as driving price increases. This reflects a tendency to portray food prices as erratic and overwhelmingly opaque.

Other issues — such as the over-reliance on fossil fuels across the supply chain — also go unmentioned.

A new approach is needed

Without rigorous and transparent analysis, we’re left with an incomplete picture of why food is so expensive and what we can do about it.

What we need is a new approach. Food is a human right, but a unique one in that we rely on the private sector to provision it. We should expect a higher standard than with other consumer goods, and the private sector has arguably not earned the benefit of the doubt given their history of price fixing.

One positive step towards generating trustworthy evidence about food prices would be to incorporate transparency measures into the code of conduct the Canadian government is developing with grocers. This could include third-party audits, open data-sharing and a clear breakdown of what’s driving price changes — from the farm to the shelf.

Read more:
The new Grocery Code of Conduct should benefit both Canadians and the food industry

Peer review of research is a critical aspect of responsible science. In our paper, we highlight the process that the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat provides for federal fisheries science, as one possible model for government-based food price reports.

For something as essential as food, Canadians deserve the full story. For decades, policy and markets have been designed to keep food cheap, but at the expense of workers and the environment.

If food prices are rising because they are starting to reflect the true social and ecological costs of production, we will need to enter a broader conversation about economic and livelihood reform to ensure that everyone can afford food. But without a clear picture of the actual drivers, we lack the necessary information for developing policies that protect the rights and well-being of Canadians.

Dr. Brian Pentz, now post-doctoral researcher at The Nature Conservancy, was lead author on the study and contributed to the writing of this article. Läs mer…

Can marketing classes teach sustainability? 4 key insights

Young adults have an important role to play in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Adopted by all UN member nations, the SDGs offer a frame for an ambitious plan to transform our world for the better.

Engaging young adults in meaningful discussions can lead to transformative learning — and action is key to meeting local and global targets.

Universities across Canada and the world are working towards making institutional commitments towards sustainability and engaging students in this also. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization launched a Reflect-Share-Act framework in 2020 to assist anyone in acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to promote sustainable development in their community.

Over the past two years, I participated in a sustainability fellowship program at the University of Saskatchewan. As part of this, I redesigned a marketing class using the UNESCO framework to include sustainability learning outcomes, activities and assessments.

I used a survey at the start and end of each term to measure changes in student perceptions around sustainability and students’ own belief in their ability to enact change. The results showed consistent increases in terms of knowledge about what sustainability is and student optimism around how to make change happen.

Many aspects of sustainability

When most people think about sustainability, their first thought is usually about the environment or climate change. However, the UN global goals also address other aspects of sustainability, including:

elimination of poverty (SDG 1);
responsible consumption and production (SDG 12);
gender equality (SDG 5);
and quality education (SDG 4).

UN SDG goals.
(The UN)

I focused my efforts on an introductory marketing class that I’d taught several times. I introduced sustainable development and the SDGs at the start of the term with the promise of making specific connections to marketing concepts throughout the class.

Students’ ideas for sustainable behaviours

The focus of marketing often involves persuasion and considering how to drive sales/purchases. When talking about consumer behaviour and revisiting traditional marketing concepts, I shared examples of overconsumption (for example, purchasing water bottles in every new colour that comes out) and asked students to consider how they might reduce their own consumption.

I pointed students towards a UN resource, The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World for initial ideas — and then asked students to brainstorm actions they could take as marketers to contribute to SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production and other SDGs in their future workplaces.

Read more:
How marketing classes can rescue ’ugly produce’ from becoming food waste

Students shared ideas such as evaluating the materials used in packaging and finding new ways to connect with customers to reduce sales-related travel and their own carbon footprint.

Students shared ideas about reducing work-related travel. Passengers at Halifax Airport, on March 27, 2024.

Students were able to think about the impacts of their decisions and identify tangible ways to contribute to sustainable development. Next year I’m going to take the activity a step further by turning their ideas into an open resource for marketers wanting to prioritize sustainability.

Here are some lessons learned from engaging business students in reflecting, sharing and acting on sustainability.

Lesson #1: Lower your defences

I’ve never been good at showing vulnerability. Dominant academic culture is based on having a strong defence and not showing weakness. I’ve found, however, that sharing my uncertainties in the face of global challenges has led to more conversation and connection with students.

When I talk about worrying about how the world is running out of water, and discuss political and humanitarian issues around water security, I’ve found that students make great efforts to address these by finding solutions that exist now and might be invented in the future.

It’s OK not to have all the answers and see what happens.

Lesson #2: Authenticity is king (or queen)

Students can be very perceptive. I’ve learned from feedback in course evaluations and informal chats that students pay attention to what I model, and the importance of being authentic. From my choice of clothing to the water bottle I bring to the classroom, these decisions matter to students.

I have open conversations where I talk about an issue, such as the horrific environmental impacts of fast fashion in Ghana, as narrated in Aja Barber’s book, Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change and Consumerism. Then I talk about my consumption choices in light of this issue.

It helps students to see the connections between these issues and the everyday (better) choices we can all make.

Lesson #3: Don’t take it personally

I’ve found that some students are cynical about setting sustainability goals.
It’s not that surprising — after all, I teach in a business school, and there is long-standing discussion about capitalist-forward business schools focussed on maximizing profits at the expense of everything else.

Others are even suspicious of the United Nations. Some refuse to take any responsibility for sustainable development and put it on corporations to solve the world’s problems.

It’s important not to take criticism personally. I’ve found that going deeper and examining these opinions can lead to interesting discussions. With regards to cynicism about the SDGs, I usually respond with questions such as: “What makes you think that? What have you read that leads you to those conclusions?”

I’ve learned educators need to listen and learn non-judgmentally about how young people feel. They have valid reasons to react strongly about generations of business leaders who have recklessly pursued wealth with complete disregard for the impacts.

Read more:
What striking education workers and climate activists have in common

Educators need to listen and learn non-judgmentally about how young people feel about the climate crisis.

Lesson #4: It’s not just about ‘what’ but about ‘how’

I’ve realized that how I engage with students on important global topics like sustainability is just as important as the content I share. UNESCO has said sustainability education should emphasize experiential, inquiry-based, problem-solving, interdisciplinary systems approaches and critical thinking.

Approaches need to enable student action and not leave them feeling like the world’s issues are too large for them to tackle. Using this definition along with the Reflect-Share-Act framework, I was able to help students move beyond considering large, often daunting global issues to a place where they can take tangible actions and affect change. Läs mer…

Decriminalization failures show half measures are not enough to address drug use problems and the opioid crisis

Ottawa’s recent rejection of the City of Toronto’s request to decriminalize possession of controlled drugs is the latest shoe to drop in the resurgence of conservative anti-drug sentiment sweeping the country, and backtracking on reforms achieved in other jurisdictions.

The announcement, citing concern for public safety, follows much the same script as that of the British Columbia government, which — after decriminalizing in 2023 — recently retreated to ban use in public places due to complaints of rampant drug use and continuing high rates of overdose.

In early April, the state of Oregon went further, recriminalizing drug possession, replacing small fines with probation and up to six months in prison. The state was forced to backtrack on decriminalization measures that were passed in 2020 due to backlash over spiking overdoses during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Continued deaths due to drug use is all the evidence required to curb reform, despite the fact that these spikes occurred mostly during the pandemic.

Research shows that the pandemic exacerbated many of the factors underlying the drug crisis. Health disparities and a lack of resources in underserved communities, social isolation, economic burden, stress, a lack of access to treatment and barriers to care all contribute to acute health effects of drug dependence.

Regardless of these facts, drug policy reform is being blamed for these outcomes.

It’s still all about the politics, of course

People holding photographs listen to speakers during a march organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to mark International Overdose Awareness Day in Vancouver on Aug. 31, 2023.

In Ontario, predictably, the Ford government’s position on Toronto’s proposal is staunch opposition. Yet there is a sense of new momentum in the same old rhetoric: because drug users continue to die and use drugs in public places, presumably this means the experts and bleeding-heart liberals who supported reform have been soundly proven wrong.

Most concerning, whereas conservatives and liberals may differ in their emphasis on punishment or treatment as solutions to drug problems, neither type of government seems prepared to fully implement a public health approach to substance use. That would mean addressing health disparities and deeper causes of substance use disorders, such as social inequality and social dislocation in Canadian society.

No North American jurisdiction has been able to achieve this, despite the depth of knowledge and increasingly articulate demonstration of progressive public servants. Bureaucrats and politicians speak the language used by experts and other knowledgeable observers, who in turn inform the public of the need for harm reduction and more comprehensive, meaningful social policy reform. Logically, this requires commitment to decriminalization to shift the emphasis from punishing addicts to rehabilitating them.

Increasingly, the discourse has gone further in establishing the need for more coherent public health policies addressing the root causes of addiction. To that end, important progress has been squandered by apparent bewilderment that addicts are still dying in large numbers, despite (and now because of) decriminalization measures that were never claimed to solve the problem of addiction, but rather to reduce known harms of criminalizing drugs.

Decriminalizing drugs is not intended to be a solution to drug problems. Rather, it is a critical first step that’s necessary, but not sufficient, for replacing prohibition with a public health approach.

Although Canada has made this work for regulating cannabis, it still has far to go to implement a more progressive public health approach to other drugs. The dangers of drug use stem not so much from psychoactive substances themselves, but from the toxic and unsafe drug supply that is the result of criminalization. But most of these substances continue to be treated as dangerous enough to ban.

Yet there is scant consideration of the societal and legal circumstances and conditions that make drugs dangerous because they happen to be used in harmful ways by certain people. Whereas opiates, like alcohol, may have higher risk of overdose and adverse health effects due to physical dependence, all drugs can be misused with risk to health and public safety.

Addiction and public health

A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally in Victoria in April 2022.

Decriminalizing drugs can make them safer, but not always, and reduce some harms of using drugs. What cannot be resolved entirely by decriminalization are the societal conditions that make substance use attractive enough to override considerations of concern for the self or others.

Addiction thrives on hopelessness and feelings of despair, abandonment and disconnection, which are caused by homelessness, unemployment and discrimination, among other social problems. Despite the range of local addiction support services and treatment options called for in support of decriminalization proposals, so far decriminalization efforts have failed to go beyond half measures to implement a full array of integrated resources.

Further off course yet, there has been little indication of meaningful commitment to addressing deeper structural root causes of addiction in North American society. Canada’s putative commitment to a public health approach has fared no better than in Oregon.

None of these jurisdictions have gone far enough to remedy the real causes of drug problems. The fate of Portugal’s successful run as a global leader in tackling addiction, as opposed to punishing addicts, helps to clarify new lessons being learned in North America.

Adopted over 20 years ago, decriminalization measures in Portugal have been implemented more successfully because its social safety net is far more comprehensive and better integrated with the criminal justice system. In recent years, as cuts to funding decimated rehabilitation programs, rising rates of overdose soon followed, demonstrating that decriminalization is not a silver bullet; if you do that and nothing else, things will get worse.

Put otherwise, half measures are ineffective. Until we are prepared to go all in to solve the problem, people who use drugs will keep dying unnecessarily because we have not afforded them real hope.

Sadly, this is news to no one. Not just experts. The Liberal government went on the record years ago by recognizing that decriminalizing drug use is not a panacea. Rather than committing to the next step, then and now, the necessary first step has been taken off the table.

How about try giving it more time?

Another lesson learned in Portugal, that evidently has not been resonating here in North American society, is that the kind of change required takes time. Now that decriminalization has been tried (and deemed a failure) in B.C. and Oregon, the reigning logic appears to be that going back to doing nothing makes more sense than doing something.

Despite great patience shown during a century of misery inflicted on drug users in Canadian society, trying something new is scary. Cue the same old moral panic scapegoating addicts as dangerous people who those in charge prefer should not be seen.

Read more:
Won’t somebody think of the children? Five reasons why drug panics are counterproductive

Decriminalizing drugs can’t eliminate people’s struggles with addiction. To work well, it requires a considerable level of investment, similar to what has historically been devoted to policing and imprisonment of addicts. Redistributing resources to support the integration of services, housing and employment for more people is not, and has never been, prioritized over punishing drug users.

Until that shift occurs, we will keep falling back on failed policies consistent with a war-on-drugs mentality that has now prevailed for 50 years against all logic. In the meantime, be prepared for a new wave of antiquated arguments proclaiming more liberal policies a failure.

Commitment to half measures creates more problems than it solves. Läs mer…

Clothed pig carcasses are revealing the secrets of mummification – South African study provides insights for forensic scientists

It was the kind of task any competent seamstress has completed hundreds of times before: altering denim jeans and jerseys. But there was something different about this piece of work. Though our team of scientists were paying for it, we weren’t her ultimate customers – the clothes were to be worn by dead pigs.

The pigs and their specially tailored outfits were central to research conducted by ourselves, Devin Finaughty and our colleagues from South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT), a group of forensic scientists known as taphonomists. We study the environmental forces that drive changes to a body after death. A key aspect is estimating time-since-death, the length of time between death and a body being recovered. Ascertaining this detail can help to identify the person and reconstruct the circumstances around their death.

Legal and ethical challenges prohibit taphonomic research using donated human remains in most countries. Currently, human taphonomic facilities only exist in the US, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada. These facilities have been proposed in other countries, including the UK and India, but have not overcome legal and public resistance.

These human facilities are not legal in South Africa, and as a result pigs are used. Pigs, specifically those weighing around 60kg, are useful for human decomposition studies because they have anatomical similarities to humans. They have been used in taphonomic research since the 1980s.

But it’s not just the human body that decomposes after death. Clothing degrades too and, to obtain forensically realistic information, clothing tailored to the body is required. That’s why a seamstress was so central to this study. Once the alterations were done, we dressed six pig carcasses and left them to decompose in two forensically significant Cape Town habitats, one in Delft at the South African Medical Research Council’s research facility and one in a secure area in the suburb of Rosebank.

We found, overall, that winter-season clothing delayed decomposition. Summer-season clothing accelerated the process. Carcass weight loss was directly affected by the scavenging of the Cape grey mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta), which accelerated the decomposition rate. And single carcasses within the same habitat decomposed faster than when two or more carcasses are dumped together.

These findings have helped deepen our understanding of how soft tissue desiccates (dries out or mummifies), which is central to improving the accuracy of time-since-death estimations and can assist in criminal investigations.

A unique experiment

This study, which was part of Dr Adams’ PhD, is the latest conducted by our research team, which has been collecting data since 2014. The team has years of local data; for instance, we were the first to show that mongoose scavenge from bodies.

Read more:
How scavengers can help forensic scientists identify human corpses

In this experiment we focused on mummification. This isn’t the process you might associate with ancient Egyptian practices. Cape Town summers are hot with dry winds; this can produce a rare natural phenomenon known as precocious mummification. This occurs when the body desiccates in less than 30 days through the gradual removal of moisture from tissues. It is usually the result of climatic extremes, such as in an arid desert, and hot, dry micro-environments, such as in a sealed house.

The phenomenon was first documented in Cape Town only in 2019 by members of our team. Our new experiment sought to build on those findings by analysing the specific environmental driving forces of desiccation in Cape Town. Courts of law prefer quantifiable data with low levels of subjectivity, so this is critical for justice.

Clothing was a key part of this experiment. That’s because most of the dead bodies found outdoors in the Cape Town area are dressed in seasonally appropriate clothing.

A clothed pig carcass at one of the two experiment sites.
Dr Kara Adams, Author provided (no reuse)

The majority of these cases involve a single deceased person. We chose clothing for the pig carcasses based on a previous survey of the most common items found in actual local forensic cases.

Sensors gather rich data

An electrical engineer at UCT, Justin Pead, helped us design and develop sensors that were inserted into the pig bodies (one in the head, one in the neck and one in the lower body). These devices measure tissue resistivity at various depths within decomposing bodies, which is related to the drying out of the tissue.

Read more:
Secrets wrapped in fabric: how our study of 100 decomposing piglet bodies will help solve criminal cases

The sensors were tested across two summer seasons and one winter. The data they collected illustrate the complex interplay between environmental conditions and mummification processes.

In the high heat of summer, the body rapidly desiccated, with tissues gradually losing moisture until reaching a state of mummification in under 30 days. In the coolness of winter, the bodies reached a stage of advanced decomposition and lost about 20kg of their initial weight but never lost any more weight and never reached the skeleton stage. The colder temperatures and higher humidity levels prevented them from drying out. Cape Town has rainy, stormy conditions in winter.

A mongoose caught on camera trap looking at one of the pig carcasses.
Author supplied, Author provided (no reuse)

A global first

Measuring desiccation for estimating time-since-death opens new avenues for research. It has implications for several disciplines. Forensic anthropologists, forensic taphonomists, electrical engineers and statisticians all have a role to play.

Our approach also offers the court system some more objective data.

The integration of innovative methodologies and technologies, such as the use of sensors on custom-designed printed circuit boards inserted in decomposing tissue, is especially exciting. It promises to change forensic taphonomy practices and enhance understanding of postmortem processes everywhere. Läs mer…