4-28-21 Mon Laferte: Chile's pop export on repression and injustice
Chile's biggest pop export, Mon Laferte, is known for speaking her mind and going to great lengths to do so. Her latest album, Seis, is her most intimate and courageous yet; tackling complex topics such as misogyny, repression, and injustice, inspired by her lived experiences. It comes at a time where Laferte, more than at any other point in her career, has emerged as a polarising figure in Latin America. The three-time Latin Grammy award winner is unafraid of alienating her more conservative fans by rallying for women's rights and calling out institutionalised abuse. At the 2019 Latin Grammys, she painted "In Chile, they torture, rape and kill" on her exposed breasts to decry human rights abuses after protests over inequality, healthcare and education were violently repressed. Thousands of civilians were injured, including hundreds blinded by police weapons, and dozens killed. Laferte sided with the movement's demands and joined the protests: "I come from a poor neighbourhood in Chile," she says. "There are not many opportunities." Around the same time, Chilean police took legal action against her for suggesting, in an interview, that armed forces were complicit in arson and looting during the unrest. Laferte responded to the charges, which were later dropped, while headlining a televised festival: "If they want to arrest me for saying what I think, let them arrest me," she announced. Her concert made headlines for its political overtures. She showed solidarity for the victims of police violence and denounced how the state had tried to silence her. The crowds cheered with popular protest chants. If this was Laferte's cumulative showdown with the state, she was the one who walked away with her head held high. But less than a month later, she was eventually forced into silence - not by the Chilean authorities, but by the pandemic.
4-3-21 The women fighting South Africa's 'infodemic'
In South Africa, a small group of volunteers is waging an online battle against Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation. Much of it comes from abroad, Jack Goodman reports. When Sarah Downs tweeted about how her grandmother had died from Covid-19, there was one response she did not expect. "I had just posted a message on Twitter basically saying my amazing grandma passed away and she meant a lot to me," she says. "So then I had someone asking me, 'Well, was there an autopsy done? What were the autopsy results? You don't know that she passed away from Covid. She could have passed away from something else.'" She had run directly into a Covid-19 denier. They're a relatively small but vocal group who have a range of beliefs - but in general, many think coronavirus is a "hoax" or "not real", and are against public health measures and lockdown rules. Right now, one of their main preoccupations is campaigning against vaccines. But Sarah - studying molecular biology and infectious diseases - was the wrong person to troll. She spends hours debunking false claims for friends, family and strangers under the alias Mistress of Science. She and others have had their work cut out as medical misinformation has taken hold in South Africa - the country worst hit by the pandemic on the continent. At the top end of the information pipeline are a relatively small collection of Facebook groups and users, including some that have actively promoted hard-line anti-vaccination content for years. "We estimate that it's about 20,000 South Africans who are actually active on anti-vax Facebook pages," says Prof Hannelie Meyer, a pharmacist and adviser to the South African Vaccine and Immunisation Centre (Savic). That's just a fraction of the country's population of 59 million. And most anti-vaccine claims in South Africa actually originate in the United States, according to a 2015 study. Anecdotal evidence - for instance the viral take-off in the country of false claims about vaccines and DNA by an American osteopath - suggests this trend has continued through the pandemic.
3-29-21 'Astronauts aren't just men - we're astronauts too'
A seven-year-old aspiring astronaut has spent lockdown building and "launching" a homemade rocket into the sky from her Leicester home. Elizabeth treated fans on her social media accounts to a "static fire" of her cardboard rocket from her parents' living room before rolling the rocket out to a launch pad in the garden. Elizabeth shares her favourite experiments on her YouTube channel, which has hundreds of subscribers. Her online fame has also led to opportunities with American-based payload company, Astrobotic, which has offered to take her YouTube sticker to the Moon on board their Peregrine lunar lander later this year. Elizabeth's mother, Jennifer, who is originally from Connecticut, said the US space agency's plans to send a woman to the Moon were "huge for humanity". "I'm excited to be the mother of a daughter at this time. One who's so excited about space," she said. A spokesperson from Astrobotic said: "Younger generations need role models that look like them. Elizabeth's enthusiasm for space is fantastic and we're proud to be sending her sticker to the Moon."
3-27-21 The all-female team racing to bring change to motor sports
The Iron Dames have already qualified for big-name races, and are hoping to change the perception of women in sports. A black and pink Ferrari coils and loops around the Mugello Circuit, just outside Florence, and guns across the finish line at 170 miles per hour. The roar of its engine echoes throughout the Tuscan countryside. This sleek ride isn't your typical commercial sports car, it's a Ferrari 488 GTE — a hyper-tuned machine built for endurance racing, with a cockpit made of carbon fiber and rebar steel. Steering behind a wheel full of buttons is 27-year-old Michelle Gatting, an ambitious pilot from Denmark. Gatting started riding go-karts at the age of 7. Today, she is the youngest member of the Iron Dames, an all-female professional racing team that competes in Grand Touring endurance racing, or GT. "An Iron Dame is a determined, strong-willed woman who has strong goals in her life," Gatting said. "And who is really passionate about what she's doing." The Iron Dames is one of just three all-female teams in the world that competes head-to-head with men. The International Federation of the Automobile (FIA), the global governing body for motor racing, has praised them as a "sign of progress" in this male-dominated sport. Far from a marketing gimmick, the Iron Dames have already qualified for big-name races, and are hoping to change the perception of women in the sport. "We fight, we want to win, we want to go for the podiums," said Gatting, referring to where winners stand to receive first, second or third place. "And when you do that, and you get [to] those podiums, people they don't question anymore why you're there," she said. GT endurance racing is like marathon running — but for sports cars. Teams of pilots speed around twisty circuits for hours at a time, while racking up an insane amount of laps — sometimes up to 2,000 miles, depending on the race. In 2019, the Iron Dames became the first ever, all-female lineup to begin and finish the legendary 24-hour of Le Mans —the mother of all endurance races. Teams of pilots take turns driving one car for a full day and a full night. They pause only for seconds at a time to switch tires or pilots. Last year they finished in the top 10 at Le Mans. This year, reaching the podium — in the top three — would be the ultimate game changer. "That would be fantastic, a dream come true," said Deborah Mayer, Iron Dames' founder and leader. Mayer, a French financier, entrepreneur, and pilot, founded the Iron Dames in 2018 to promote women in motor sports. "And to give the possibility to talented women to show all their capacities and skills in a quite competitive environment," said Mayer. As a long-time Ferrari collector, Mayer caught the speed bug racing in Ferrari tournaments. Now, she is betting big to take the Iron Dames to the top. Motor sports is one of very few sports where the athlete's sex doesn't matter, said Mayer. At the end of the race, what separates a good pilot from the rest is strictly the lap time. "It's not a question of strength…it's skills, it's hard work…you have to improve and work on your technique," said Mayer. "You have to have the right strategy, and, above all, you have to work as a team," she said. Mayer describes teamwork as "working at it, till the mayonnaise thickens." Professional racing teams require million-dollar cars and a traveling crew of coaches, mechanics, engineers, and other staff working up to 24 hours at a time with the pilots. Together with Mayer and Gatting, Manuela Gostner from Italy, and Rahel Frey from Switzerland, make up the original Iron Dames team.
3-19-21 ‘The Code Breaker’ tells the story of CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna
The biography also delves into the ethics of gene editing. With the slightest touch, the fernlike vine known as sleeping grass folds over on itself, like a Venus flytrap closing its flaps. “What causes the leaves to close when you touch them?” a young Jennifer Doudna wondered growing up in Hawaii. Noticing that curiosity, Doudna’s father left James Watson’s book The Double Helix on her bed one day. Doudna sped through the pages, absorbing how Watson and Francis Crick deciphered the structure of DNA. Today, she credits the book and her insatiable inquisitiveness for driving her to become a scientist and for setting the foundation for her to codiscover, nearly four decades later, a set of molecular scissors called CRISPR that can edit the genetic blueprint of life. Watson would later call CRISPR “the most important discovery since DNA’s structure,” Walter Isaacson writes in The Code Breaker. The book, both a biography of Doudna and a deep dive into the ethics of genetic engineering, is written for people who may have heard of CRISPR but don’t know much about the history of its development. The book digs into the fierce patent battles that have ensued between the University of California (Doudna is at the Berkeley campus) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where other researchers, most notably Feng Zhang, were also developing the gene-editing tool. The tone and style of the book’s first half mimic The Double Helix, setting up the scientific process as a detective story, one focused first on understanding how bacteria rely on CRISPR to fend off viral infections and then on how scientists transformed that natural bacterial defense system into a tool that allows humans to edit their own DNA. While The Code Breaker starts off as a page-turner, the latter half is more tedious, with tangents that loosely weave together the battle over the claim to discovering CRISPR and the ethical questions around using it. Those questions came to the fore in 2018, after the birth of two babies whose genes had been edited while still embryos (SN: 11/27/18). Impressively timely, Isaacson bounces from concerns over “designer” children to Doudna’s shared 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry (SN: 10/7/20) to her latest race against rivals: adapting CRISPR into a tool that can quickly detect the virus that causes COVID-19, or one that could potentially thwart the virus’s infection of human cells (SN: 8/31/20). No longer is the race for patents and prizes, Isaacson writes, but one to save humankind from the coronavirus and possibly other ills.
3-5-21 International Women's Day: Illustrating the Covid-19 pandemic
There's barely any country in the world that hasn't been touched by the coronavirus pandemic and its aftershocks. But with so much information out there, it's sometimes hard to digest all the details and fully take it in. Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, we invite you to meet three women who are using their artistic talents, combined with their expertise in the fields of science, health and technology to help the fight against coronavirus. Avesta Rastan, 25, is a visual science communicator currently living in California. At the start of the pandemic, she realised there weren't many infographics revealing how Covid-19 directly affected the human body. So the artist, who is of Iranian and Canadian heritage, and is a member of the Association of Medical Illustrators, saw a unique opportunity to use her skills and her training in pathological illustration (the drawing of disease) to help the wider public. "I saw lots of illustrations and 3D models of the virus itself and its protein but I didn't really see what it did to us," she explained. She started investigating and soon created an infographic that unexpectedly went viral on social media. Even the World Economic Forum shared it. She was approached by people all over the world wanting to see the poster in different languages and offering to translate her explanations. It's now available to download in 18 languages on her website. Rastan says: "I'm not a frontline worker; I'm not in health care, but you help out in whatever way you can and for me that was using my art. She adds science can have a reputation for being difficult to learn and that does deter people but illustrations bridge that gap and could encourage more to enter her field. "Science itself isn't hard - it's a natural process for humans; we're naturally curious and want to understand how things work", she adds.
3-5-21 Nalleli Cobo: How a nine-year-old fought an oil company and won
When a Latino community in Los Angeles began their fight against an oil company they claimed was polluting their neighbourhood, a young woman played a central role. Nalleli Cobo was nine years old when she started suffering from asthma, nosebleeds and headaches. It was the beginning of a battle against an active oil well site located in front of her house in South Los Angeles. Nalleli and her mother soon found out that some of their neighbours were also getting sick. The community, mostly composed of low-income families, protested until the site was temporarily shut down. Cobo didn't stop there. Joined by a group of young activists and organisations, they sued the city to demand more regulations in oil extraction. And they won. A criminal case against the company, Allenco, and its handling of the site, resumes later this month. They declined to comment for this story but have previously stated that they invested capital to comply with regulations. She has been compared to Greta Thunberg, although her name has been recognised locally for over a decade. Cobo paused her activism activities in early 2020 after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19. Her doctors don't know what caused her illness. After three surgeries and medical treatment, she has recently been declared cancer-free. This is her story. I grew up in University Park, in South Central Los Angeles, 30ft across the street from an oil well owned by AllenCo from 2009. I lived with my mom, my three siblings, my grandma, my great grandpa, my great grandma all in one apartment. We were eight people, including me. My mom is from Mexico and my dad is from Colombia. He was deported when I was two years old and my mom raised me. It was the year 2010 and I was nine years old. All of the sudden I started having stomach pains, nausea. I got body spasms so severe I couldn't walk, my mom would have to carry me because I would freeze up like a vegetable. I got nosebleeds so severe that I would have to sleep sitting down so I wouldn't choke on my own blood at night.
3-1-21 Golden Globes: 'Tears' as Chloe Zhao becomes first Asian woman to win best director
Asians around the world are reacting with "happy tears" as Chloe Zhao made history at the Golden Globe Awards, becoming the first Asian woman to ever win the prize for best director. Many online praised her for being a "huge inspiration for young Asian girls", adding that it was a "win for women everywhere". The Nomadland director, who was born in China, is only the second woman to win the award. The first was Barbra Streisand in 1984. "I cannot stress this enough, as an Asian woman in the arts, it is so inspiring to see Chloe Zhao make history tonight as the first woman of colour to win for best director," said one Twitter user. This year also marks the first time more than one woman has ever been shortlisted for the title of best director. Regina King and Emerald Fennell were also in the running. Ms Streisand herself congratulated Ms Zhao on the win, saying "it's about time". Her win was also celebrated on Chinese social media site Weibo, where many praised her talent. "This is the first time a Chinese female director has ever won. Congratulations Director Zhao, looking forward to your next award," said one comment. The semi-fictional Nomadland, which also took home the award for best drama, stars Frances McDormand as a woman named Fern who travels around America as a modern-day nomad. The Beijing-born director, who now resides in the US, recently directed upcoming Marvels film The Eternals. And Ms Zhao wasn't the only Asian to win big tonight. Minari, director Lee Isaac Chung's semi-autobiographical story about a Korean-American family also won for best-foreign language film. Footage released by the Golden Globes showed Mr Lee's daughter clutching him tightly when the win was announced, saying: "I prayed, I prayed!" "In a time where Asian-Americans are being attacked because we're still seen as foreign and a disease, Chloe Zhao and Minari winning Golden Globes means so much," said journalist Diep Tran in a tweet. We exist, we are Americans."
3-1-21 Why this teen set up a prize-winning fake cosmetics shop
Disturbed by reports of rising domestic violence under coronavirus lockdown, a Polish high school student decided to launch a fake online shop to offer a lifeline to victims trapped in their homes. Her idea won a European Union prize that came with €10,000 (£8,700; $12,120). "Firstly, I heard about the increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. Then I heard about a French initiative, where people go to the pharmacy and ask for a special mask that lets the pharmacist know they are a victim of domestic violence," Krystyna Paszko explained. "I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I came up with the idea of selling cosmetics." In April, Krystyna, who was 17 at the time, decided to launch the fake online shop "Camomiles and Pansies" to sell those cosmetics. The idea is that the victim can hide requests for help from their abuser at home by appearing to be shopping online. When a victim writes asking to buy a cream, a psychologist responds instead of a salesperson and asks how long the "skin problems" have been going on for, or how the affected skin reacts to alcohol. If someone places an order and leaves an address, it is actually code asking for authorities to visit their home. After Krystyna openly wrote about her plan on her own Facebook page, she was inundated with questions. "I thought it would only be for my friends, and friends of friends. I thought I would help maybe one person or two, but the shares on Facebook were big and it became really popular," she said. With so much interest, Krystyna contacted the Women's Rights Centre, a Polish NGO, asking for assistance. In response it provided psychologists and lawyers to work with the website. Since its launch, more than 350 people have contacted the website. Most of the victims are young, under 40, and about 10% are male. "More younger women prefer to write on Facebook than to call on the phone, it's more natural for younger women to use Facebook chat. Most of the men writing to us are teenagers," she said.
2-22-21 Jasmine Harrison on being youngest solo female to row Atlantic Ocean
Jasmine Harrison has described the moment she became the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The 21-year-old swimming teacher, from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, arrived in Antigua on Saturday after a 70-day journey.
2-22-21 Divya Kakran: 'I became famous for wrestling boys'
Divya Kakran was sent to the wrestling pit in her neighbourhood as a punishment for skipping school. But to her parents' surprise, she took to the sport and drew attention for her strength and quick reflexes. Soon, she was beating boys - a feat that made her quite famous at local bouts in India. She says her decision to pursue wrestling didn't go down well with her conservative relatives or community. But her family always supported her - she says she wants to make them proud by making a name for herself in international wrestling.
2-13-21 Nasa's pioneering black women
In recent years, black women's contributions to the space race have started to come to light. Many were recruited as "computers", meaning that they carried out complex mathematical calculations by hand, before machines were invented that could do the job. Christine Darden started her career in the computer pool, helping the engineers work out the trajectories needed to bring the Apollo Capsule back to Earth. Witness History: The stories of our times told by the people who were there.
2-6-21 Solar energy empowers young women in Yemen
Ten women in Yemen's Abs district have built and now run a solar microgrid. The project was set up in 2019 with the help of the UN Development Programme. The women now run the station as their own business, providing affordable, renewable energy to a community living near a war zone. As a result of the project’s success, there are plans to build 100 microgrids around the country, employing more local women. Station manager Iman Ghaleb Hadi Al-Hamali explains how the work has given the group confidence and hope.
1-26-21 Janet Yellen to be first female US treasury secretary
Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the first ever female US treasury secretary in a Senate vote. Ms Yellen, who headed the US central bank from 2014 to 2018, earlier won bipartisan support from members of the Senate Finance Committee. She will be responsible for guiding the Biden administration's economic response to the pandemic. The US is struggling to rebound economically from the hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic. At her confirmation hearing on 19 January, Ms Yellen urged Congress to approve trillions more in pandemic relief and economic stimulus, saying that lawmakers should "act big" without worrying about national debt. In response, Republican senators warned the former Federal Reserve head this was not the time for "a laundry list" of liberal reforms. Ms Yellen disagreed, highlighting the fact that many families whose incomes have fallen were not reached by jobless programmes. She argued that plans to raise taxes must be seen in the context of financing bigger investments necessary to make the US economy competitive. "The focus now is not on tax increases. It is on programmes to help us get through the pandemic," she stressed. Janet Yellen was previously chair of the US Federal Reserve. She was known for focusing more attention on the impact of the central bank's policies on workers and the costs of America's rising inequality. Before then-President Barack Obama named her to lead the Fed in 2014, she had served as one of its board members for a decade, including four years as vice-chair. Donald Trump bucked Washington tradition when he opted not to appoint Ms Yellen to a second four-year term at the Fed. However, her climb to the top of the economics profession had made her a feminist icon in the economics world. When she left the Fed in 2018, many paid tribute to her leadership by imitating her signature look of a blazer with a popped collar. Ms Yellen is seen as someone able to satisfy both progressive and centrist members of Mr Biden's Democratic party. Her nomination to lead the Fed in 2014 won support from some Republicans.