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Bohra imam’s visit puts British girls at risk of mutilation, warn FGM campaigners | Female genital mutilation (FGM)

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Campaigners have criticised the UK government for granting a visa to a religious leader who has advocated for female genital mutilation (FGM).

Mufaddal Saifuddin who is the syedna, or leader, of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of Shia Islam with 1.2 million followers worldwide, will give sermons in front of tens of thousands of people at Northolt mosque in London between 29 July and 7 August.

A group of anti-FGM activists and survivor-led organisations has written to Liz Truss and Priti Patel, as well as Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, and Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, calling on the UK government to revoke Saifuddin’s visa unless he publicly denounces FGM.

Saifuddin, who has publicly stated his support for FGM, was granted a visa despite UK immigration policy prohibiting supporters of the practice from visiting the UK. It is an offence in England and Wales for any person to perform FGM, punishable by up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine.

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Female genital mutilation: what does it involve and what are its consequences?

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Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the removal of part or all of the external genitalia for nonmedical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization.

There are different types of cutting: removal of the clitoris and/or its hood; removing the clitoris and the inner fold of the vulva (labia minora); and the narrowing of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia minora through stitching. Also known as infibulation, this has the worst health consequences. The fourth type of cutting includes other forms of injury to the genitalia such as incising, scraping or cauterising.

Since traditional practitioners use razor blades or knives, with no anaesthesia, girls experience excruciating pain and are at risk of severe bleeding and infections which can lead to sepsis. Some do not survive.

For the girls, who are often married off soon after genital cutting, sex is traumatic and painful, and enjoying sex will always be difficult unless they have surgical reconstruction.

In pregnancy, delivery is often risky due to obstructed and prolonged labour. Women are at risk of developing obstetric fistula (an abnormal opening between a woman’s genital tract and her urinary tract or rectum) which can cause incontinence – leading to shame, stigma and rejection from their partners.

  • Dr Mercy Korir is a medical doctor and health and science editor at the Kenyan media organisation Standard Group

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Saka Hakasi, former president of the Dawoodi Bohra Welfare Society, which has been excommunicated from the Dawoodi Bohra community and has approximately 800 members in the UK, said: “Given he supports FGM, I don’t understand how he can be given a visa to visit the UK, because it puts girls at risk. We are flabbergasted.”

The Home Office said it did not routinely comment on individual cases.

Four million girls and young women a year are believed to be at risk of being cut around the world and an estimated 200 million have already been mutilated, in a practice that causes lifelong health complications and often leads to the death of victims.

In 2015, Saifuddin’s office issued letters to his followers in countries where FGM is illegal, including the UK, informing members not to perform the practice. However, in a public sermon a year later, he stated: “It must be done.” Supporters of Saifuddin claimed his remarks had been misinterpreted.

In an open letter in 2016, an anti-FGM organisation within the Bohra community criticised his comments, noting that: “His declaration that Bohras must continue the act [of FGM], irrespective of opposition from various quarters, indicates that Bohra authorities were not being sincere” when they publicly urged congregations to stop the practice.

A UK-registered charity, for which Saifuddin is the corporate trustee, spent more than £800,000 on “costs incurred in defending four members of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat [congregation] in Sydney in connection with female genital mutilation”. In a landmark case in Australia, a Dawoodi Bohra imam, a former midwife and the victims’ mother were found guilty of mutilating two girls.

Masooma Ranalvi, who is part of the Dawoodi Bohra community in India, a survivor of FGM, and founder of WeSpeakOut, a survivor-led organisation, said: “It’s important for the UK government to take note of the fact that this is a man who is openly perpetuating and propagating a practice which is illegal in the UK. [His visit] will lead to a resurgence in [FGM].”

WeSpeakOut is planning a protest outside the mosque in north-west London on Friday 5 August.

Prince Charles has met the sect’s leader twice: in September they met at his Scottish estate, Dumfries House; the prince also met Saifuddin on a visit to Northolt mosque in 2009. Khan met Saifuddin on a previous visit.

“Prince Charles and Sadiq Khan are legitimising him. This is true of any person who publicly lauds him,” said Ranalvi. “It’s a clear statement of support for each other.”

She added: “Politicians and the crown should take a stand on it. That’s the only way we can condemn such practices.”

A spokesperson said Khan had no plans to meet Saifuddin. They said the mayor was “very clear that the despicable practice of FGM has absolutely no place in our city”.

Clarence House said there were no plans for Charles to meet Saifuddin on this visit.

FGM is inflicted on girls from the Bohra community usually between the ages of six and nine years old. It usually takes the form of Type 1 FGM (partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and/or the clitoral hood) or Type 4 FGM (pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the female genitals), as classified by the World Health Organization.

According to one survey, about 75% of girls in the Dawoodi Bohra community in India have undergone FGM, according to Ranalvi, who said she had anecdotal evidence that the practice continues in the UK, despite being illegal. Saifuddin’s visit coincides with the school summer holidays, when many British girls are sent abroad to be cut.

Many members of the Bohra community have called for an end to FGM as a form of child abuse and human rights violation that can cause lifelong physical and psychological trauma.

Representatives of the Dawoodi Bohra organisation were approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.

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J&J Stops Global Sales of Scandalous Talc-Based Powder After 130 Years

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Once one of its top products for families, J&J’s talc-based powder has been haunted by claims of causing cancer in recent years even as the company consistently denied what it has called rumors and “misinformation”.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will be ceasing the sales of its talc-based powder, two years after stopping them in the US and Canada, after keeping it in its product line for 130 years. The company will be replacing the product with a cornstarch-based powder.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company’s statement said.

The J&J talc-based powder has been at the epicenter of several lawsuits claiming it caused ovarian cancer due to the presence of a known cancer-causing material – asbestos. However, the company has repeatedly denied these allegations, despite losing $3.5 billion in these lawsuits.

As the firm announced the retirement of the talc-based powder, it once again repeated its long-held position on the controversial product’s safety.

“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Apart from losing a number of lawsuits, J&J faced tough questions following a 2018 Reuters investigation, which claimed the company knew about the asbestos contamination since at least 1971 but failed to act on it. As the veins of asbestos are often found in talc deposits, the extracted talc used to make the powder can be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral.

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Pay Up: Supreme Court Rejects J&J’s Request to Appeal $2 Bln Verdict in Talc Cancer Case
Despite continuing to maintain its innocence, J&J stopped selling talc-based powder in the US and Canada in 2020, citing the harm done to the sales by the “misinformation” about its safety. However, the company continued to distribute it around the world alongside the cornstarch-based alternative, which will now completely substitute it.



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Drug traffickers terrorize Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez: Shootings, Molotov cocktails and murder | International

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The Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua descended into chaos on Thursday as drug traffickers carried out sweeping attacks on convenience stores, gas stations and buses. State authorities have not yet identified a link between the attacks, but the surge of violence has been linked to a prison riot that left three inmates dead.

A few hours after the riot, groups of armed men were filmed throwing Molotov cocktails and firing at well-known local food chains, such as Rapiditos Bip-Bip, OXXO, CircleK and Del Río, which is owned by Alejandra de la Vega, one of the richest businesswomen in Chihuahua.

Security forces outside one of the convenience stores that was attacked on Thursday, in Ciudad Juárez.
Security forces outside one of the convenience stores that was attacked on Thursday, in Ciudad Juárez.JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ (REUTERS)

Around 5pm, two women were killed in an OXXO convenience store in the southeast of the city after assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the building, which was instantly engulfed in flames. According to the local newspaper Diario de Juárez, which cites municipal authorities, the victims were an OXXO employee and another young woman who had come to ask for work.

The attackers also threw Molotov cocktails at another OXXO, at the cross-section of Ejercito Nacional and Manuel Gómez Morín, but the workers managed to escape safely. In a Circle K store, a group of armed men fired at four people, injuring a 15-year-old teenager who was taken to a hospital. Later, employees of a Del Río convenience store were beaten and shot at, with one man injured in the attack, according to local press. The armed gang also threw Molotov cocktails and fired at a gas station located at the intersection of San Antonio and Gómez Morín street. Authorities said no attempts were made to rob the attacked premises.

In a pizza store, belonging to the Little Caesar chain, four men were shot dead. Authorities reported that the assailants also set fire to a bus transporting workers to a maquiladora, a type of factory in Mexico run by a foreign company. The women were able to flee the vehicle before it was consumed by flames.

A man hugs his children, who were visiting a family member in prison when the riot began.
A man hugs his children, who were visiting a family member in prison when the riot began.JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ (REUTERS)

“I deeply regret the loss of human lives in this heinous event against Ciudad Juarez,” said Chihuahua Governor Maru Campos in a Twitter message. “I condemn the violent events that occurred this afternoon. I reiterate my commitment to work with all my strength and capabilities to guarantee the well-being of the people of Juarez,” she added. This was the first official statement after six hours of attacks.

EL PAÍS contacted the Chihuahua prosecutor’s office to gain more information about the violence, but received no reply. In response to the attacks, the University of Ciudad Juárez canceled classes on Thursday and will hold all academic activities scheduled for Friday and Saturday online.

Thursday’s attacks have become part of daily life in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, which has been besieged by violence for decades. According to Diario de Juárez, before the afternoon chaos, a decapitated head was found in the city. “It is the second decapitated head found in less than 24 hours,” the newspaper reported. And in another part of the city, in the Paraje de Oriente neighborhood, a man was riddled with bullets while fleeing from his attackers. “This is the 49th intentional homicide of the month of August,” wrote the newspaper. In Ciudad Juárez, a city of a million and a half inhabitants, almost five people a day have been killed in August alone.

The violence in Ciudad Juárez comes just a few days after drug traffickers terrorized the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato. The armed groups burned cars, trucks and businesses, and also blocked several highways after the Mexican government tried to arrest two alleged leaders of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of the most powerful drug organizations in Mexico.

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The Gabon woman who went from teacher to bamboo bike maker | Global development

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Deep in Gabon’s humid tropical rainforest, Grace Mabika is making a bicycle.

“Cutting bamboo is hard,” she says, hacking away at shoots with a machete. “The bamboo must be at least five years old to turn it into a bike. We are very selective about which shoots we cut.”

Mabika, 33, is co-founder of Bamga Bicycles, the first company in Gabon to make bamboo bikes.

It will take her and a team of five a day to fill a truckload of bamboo to make 200 bikes at her factory in Mouila, a town six hours south of Gabon’s capital Libreville. The raw material will be dried in the sun, carved into bike frames and varnished. Handlebars and wheels, made by a local manufacturer, will then be added.

Grace Mabika, co-founder of Bamga Bicycles.
Grace Mabika, co-founder of Bamga Bicycles. Photograph: Handout

Mabika had the idea to make bikes while working as an English teacher in Mouila, her hometown, a few years ago. She saw that many of her pupils walked for hours each day to get to school. “It pained me to know that my students had to walk for so long. For women, it’s even worse because when they get home they have to cook – it’s exhausting,” she says.

“But we have the resources here in abundance to create simple solutions to impact local communities.”

She put her idea into action in 2020, during the Covid pandemic. By then she was managing a hotel, but the lockdown saw 40 people lose their jobs. Mabika employed the former staff to cut down bamboo. Using money from friends and family, she built her first bike – a child’s tricycle.

Within months of its launch, Bamga Bicycles had secured more than 2,000 orders within Mouila, a town of 20,000 people. A further 3,000 bikes have been ordered by an outdoor company which has 39 shops across Gabon, replacing the ones it imports from China. Half the bikes will be specifically made for women.

The first prototype cost around £550 to build, but Mabika wants to cut production costs to make it more affordable. “People have money,” Mabika says, but bringing the price down would “democratise access” to bikes for everyone.

Despite being one of the richest countries in Africa, with a per capita GDP of around $8,000 (£6,600), about a third of the population lives below the national poverty line. Its 2 million has been ruled by the Bongo family since 1967, and the country is one of Africa’s largest oil producers.

Most bikes in Gabon are made with men in mind. Mabika makes smaller bikes designed for women, with a basket on the front. She hopes to encourage more women to start cycling. “If we can get just 5% more women riding bikes, I would be very happy,” she says. So far, she’s had a lot of interest from female students who want to cut their long walks to school and keep themselves safe.

Mabika also wants to employ more women. She currently hires some women to cut down bamboo, but as production increases, she wants more women trained to work in the manufacturing plant.

Mabika’s ultimate goal is to build and sell 20,000 bamboo bikes a year and put Africa on the map as a source of quality bamboo. “Africa is not well known for its bamboo, but Gabon has very good and strong bamboo, and there is an opportunity for us to take a share of the market.”

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