A man walks his donkey

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A man walks his donkey through the flooded streets of the city. Hundreds of families have been forced out of their homes following flash floods. The torrential rains resulted in the bursting of the banks of the Shabelle river

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FGM and disability also hinder girls’ education

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Your sponsored roundtable on educating girls (Society, 4 October) is to be commended both for laying bare the critical need to address this issue in general, and for acknowledging the complications and taboos around menstruation as a severe obstacle to progress. It is difficult to understand, however, why the painful topic of female genital mutilation was not also a focus of discussion. One required element in some communities of the lengthy initiation ceremonies to “adulthood” mentioned is that girls must undergo FGM. This cruel initiation, often at or just before puberty, is the marker by which potential husbands (often already owners of other wives) are in traditional thinking assured of their soon-to-be purchased wife’s virginity. Raising a girl and paying for her FGM is expensive – ceremonies are often held around harvest time when there’s more money – and bride price is increased if the girl-woman is “pure”.

Until girls are no longer perceived as chattels for exchange on the open market, the practices of FGM and early “marriage” (child rape) will continue. As your commentators acknowledge, FGM and early marriage will only be abandoned once men and women alike see these practices as patriarchy incarnate, the literal imposition of men’s power on female bodies. Assumed patriarchal entitlement remains to be challenged in many parts of the world, but nowhere more than in places where its imposition actually precludes young women even receiving an education which will empower both them personally and their wider communities.

If the international community is serious about its pledge to leave no one behind, then we cannot focus solely on women’s and girls’ education. There are more than 100 million children with disabilities across the globe – and in developing countries, 90% never go to school. Tens of millions of the world’s most vulnerable children are prohibited from participating in society, from achieving their potential, from ever having a hope of escaping entrenched poverty. The huge strides made towards getting girls into education has set the bar for what can be done for children with disabilities. My work with deaf children in the developing world has shown me that we need to be creative and trial projects in different contexts and cultures. We need better data on what is working and what isn’t. And on top of all of this, we need the global political will to act. Until then, the ambition of leaving no one behind will never truly be realised.

Can exercise reduce the risk of cancer?

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Just in case you haven’t got the message that exercise is good for you, two huge research studies this week shout it louder than ever. Which is just as well, since almost one-third of adults are classified as “inactive”. Exercise is already known to reduce the risk of breast, colon and endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) by between 10% and 40%. Now, a pooled analysis of data from studies looking at 1.4 million adults between the ages of 19 and 98 has found that exercise reduces the risk of an additional 10 cancers, including oesophageal, stomach, bladder and kidney. What’s more, for many cancers, exercise reduces the risk even in overweight people. This is particularly interesting, because the mechanism by which exercise is thought to protect from cancer is weight reduction.

Dr Marilie Gammon, an epidemiologist from the Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who wrote an editorial to accompany the paper in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine, says that exercise may help to repair DNA when it is damaged by cancer-promoting substances. Exercise may also alter hormone levels and reduce inflammation.

The study showed that the risk of oesophageal cancer for those taking the most exercise was 42% lower than for those taking the least. For seven of the cancers, the risk reduction was one-fifth or more. Gammon says the data was based on four hours of activity a week.

How active you have to be to reduce your cancer risk is unknown. Gammon suggests anything is likely to be beneficial – even taking the stairs instead of the lift.

But why stop at exercise? The second study of lifestyle and cancer, which took data from 136,000 Americans, found that anyone who quits smoking; does two and a half hours of moderate exercise a week has no more than one drink a day if a woman or two if a man and keeps to a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5 is likely to reduce their risk of bowel cancer by 30% and breast cancer by 12%.

So, are you doing enough to reduce your risk of getting cancer? While these studies can’t prove that exercise reduces the risk of cancer – because they only report an observed association – they show a strong link, which is enough for me to get out my bike tomorrow. The fact that you can be overweight and still see a reduction in risk means you can get the benefit whatever your size. Dr Stephen Moore, the author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper, is reported to run every day. Get moving.

This Toothbrush was made for the Emperor Napoleon Bonaport

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We all use toothbrushes, but people know little about such a brush which has the name of the person who used it. Yes, this toothbrush is the French ruler of Napoleon Bonaport.

This silver gilt toothbrush was made for the Famous Emperor Napoleon Bonaport (1769-1821) of France. Things made from silver gilt are of silver but they have a gold layer.

The search for toothbrush and toothpaste was attributed to the Chinese, but it was started in the Western country by French dentist between the 17th and 18th centuries. These toothbrushes are now in the collection of Henry Wellcome.

How women in Nigeria are changing the face of tech

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The Nigerian tech scene is booming. Last year, Lagos-based startup Andela received $24m (£18.5m) in funding from Mark Zuckerberg. In 2015, financial technology startup Paystack – one of the first Nigerian tech companies to be accepted into renowned California-based startup accelerator Y Combinator – secured approximately $1.3 m in seed investment from international investors.

Within this growth, women are emerging as influential forces, and changing the face of technology in Africa, especially in the fields of agricultural and financial tech. This is despite the fact that, as recently as a decade ago, women were grossly underrepresented in and excluded from the industries they are now helping to shape.

“I think those who are joining the tech world today have an easier path to tread,” says Nnenna Nwakanma, a Nigerian activist for accessible internet. “There were situations where people would refuse to recognise my authority, but would patronise or objectify me, or refuse to fulfil contracts they had willingly entered into – all because of my gender.” Despite this, Nwakanma co-founded the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and is now a senior policy manager for the World Wide Web Foundation, where she supports digital equality and promotes the rights of Nigerian women online.

The negative attitude towards women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) is starting to change, thanks partly to initiatives such as the Stem outreach and mentoring programmes established by the Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, which operates in 11 countries. There is also Intel’s programme She Will Connect Africa, which has trained more than 150,000 women in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya in digital literacy since it launched in 2013.

The demand for tech talent is now such that it cannot be met by men alone. Rapid digitalisation in Nigeria is heavily concentrated in the country’s metropolitan megacity, Lagos. Here, the startup culture flourishes, while big business have moved in: in 2015, global tech supplier Bosch opened a subsidiary in Ikeja, the capital of Lagos region, and Microsoft has an office in the affluent Lagos neighbourhood of Ikoyi.

Ire Aderinokun – the author of web development blog bitsofco.de, a front-end developer and Nigeria’s first female Google Developer Expert – says her love of tech started as a hobby. “I used to play an online game called Neopets, which had some HTML capabilities. From there, I got really interested and continued to learn more.” But, despite Aderinokun’s enthusiasm, her interest was not always encouraged. “It’s definitely not what society expected of me. I studied psychology for my undergraduate and law for my master’s. When I said I wanted to pursue this, there were many people who told me not to.”

Rukayat Sadiq, a software engineer and a technical team leader at Andela, also faced opposition. She chose to study electrical engineering – a subject in which a class of 150 students might include only 15 women – to the surprise of friends and family, who had expected her to become a doctor.

While women entering and participating equally in the labour market is commonplace in Nigeria, computing and engineering are still industries dominated heavily by men. But many women who work in the tech industry are keen to offer support to those coming up. Aderinokun, for example, is funding full scholarships to five women for online programming “nanodegrees”. These qualifications do not guarantee employment, but they give those who have earned them a distinct advantage in the workplace and are endorsed by top employers, including Google, AT&T and Amazon. Sadiq also spends time “teaching and mentoring newbies”.

“Removing the stigma and assumption that tech is only supposed to be for men is necessary, and I think we need to start from as early in children’s lives as possible,” says Aderinokun. “We should work towards eliminating negative statements and mindsets that perpetuate the myth that women can’t be involved in Stem.”

It is hopeful that we will one day get to a point where tech-related fields are level playing grounds for both sexes.

It is a challenge that continues around the globe, but it is one Nigeria is well equipped to handle.

Rape is an instrument of war in Central African Republic

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Rape and sexual slavery have been used as weapons of war across Central African Republic, with armed groups carrying out brutal attacks with impunity, human rights campaigners have warned.

Research by Human Rights Watch found that sexual violence is not only tolerated by commanders fighting in the country’s ongoing conflict, but in some cases ordered or committed by them.

The study detailed cases of women and girls who were held as sexual slaves for up to 18 months. Many of the women interviewed endured multiple sexual attacks, in addition to other forms of torture. Survivors of such violence have little access to health care or support, and even less hope of justice, the report warned.

Central African Republic has been wracked by sectarian violence for the past five years. In 2013, François Bozizé was overthrown as president by the Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel group. In response, the anti-balaka militia was formed, consisting of mostly Christian fighters. Spiralling violence between the two sides has since resulted in the deaths of thousands.

Both factions have used sexual violence as revenge against women perceived to be supporters of the rival party, according to the report. Stigma and a dysfunctional justice system have stopped many women from reporting such crimes, however.

In 2014 alone, the UN recorded more than 2,500 cases of sexual violence.

“Armed groups are using rape in a brutal, calculated way to punish and terrorise women and girls,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Of the 296 women interviewed, less than half had received any medical or mental healthcare, even though many had suffered incapacitating physical injuries or illness. Even women who had contracted HIV or experienced suicidal thoughts were unable to access appropriate healthcare, with lack of medical facilities, the cost of travel and treatment, and fear of rejection all contributory factors.

One 31-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch: “They killed my husband, raped me, I don’t have my house, I’m infected [with HIV] – that’s what they have done to me. I want to bring them to justice because they have ruined my life.”

Survivors of sexual violence reported that their husbands had left them and family members had blamed them. Many also said they had been taunted by members of their community.

“There’s embarrassment that they’ve not only tainted themselves, but their families are also tainted by this shameful act,” said Margolis. “It’s this idea that the survivor is dirty now, which is at times tied up the risk of HIV and the fear of getting sexually transmitted diseases.

“There’s also this concept that if your wife has slept with someone else she almost belongs to that person. She has been tainted and taken.”

Although the abuses detailed in the report constitute war crimes, and are also crimes under Central African law, only 11 of the 296 women interviewed said they had attempted to file a criminal complaint. No members of armed groups are known to have been arrested or tried for committing sexual violence, said Human Rights Watch.

The organisation called for the newly established special criminal court, which will include both national and international judges, to begin dealing with cases urgently.

“There needs to be a strong and urgent message in Central African Republict hat rape as a weapon of war is intolerable, that rapists will be punished, and that survivors will get the support they desperately need,” Margolis said. “Even in a conflict zone, the government and international institutions can and should work to make services available to all rape survivors now, and put rapists on the path to accountability.”