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This Maasai woman is transforming genital cutting rituals into ceremonies celebrating girls’ dreams.
Women Deliver/YouTube

She was just 8 years old when she was supposed to under go "the cut."

Nice Leng'ete and her 10-year-old sister woke up early the morning of their cutting ceremony. They took the cold shower meant to serve as their only anesthesia before having their clitorises removed. Then they quietly slipped out of their Kenyan village and ran through the bush to their aunt's house 40 miles away.

They had seen other girls in their village get cut, heard their cries of pain, seen some faint and even die. They didn't want to go through that themselves.

A week later, the girls were found, brought home, beaten, and threatened. They were told they would not be real women if they did not get cut. They would not be able to marry, and would bring shame upon their family.


Leng'ete wanted to run away again, but her sister refused, afraid that the consequences of resisting may get worse. Leng'ete approached her grandfather, a respected elder, and told him she would keep running away and become a street child if he insisted she get cut. He finally relented. He told the village to let her remain as she was, though she would face ostracism from the community and be considered a coward.

Nothing was going to stop Leng'ete from getting her education—and from helping girls like her. Eventually, she connected with Amref Health Africa, an organization that supports community-based health initiatives, and started a years-long journey toward eduacating her community away from FGM rituals and toward healthier alternatives.

Leng'ete has helped save 17,000 girls from FGM through community education and the creation of alternative rites of passage.

As Leng'ete shared her story on the main stage at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver last week, the mostly female audience sat in reverent silence. Some in the crowd came from regions where FGM is common. Others, like me, came from regions where the practice is seen as unfathomably barbaric. Many of us have daughters and couldn't imagine an 8-year-old walking in Leng'ete's shoes.

However, our horror was soon replaced with hope, as Leng'ete explained how she was able to change her community's FGM rituals.

It's not easy to change a culture, and the deck was stacked against Leng'ete in many ways. However, she also had the distinct advantage of understanding the culture she was trying to change.

"In the community that I come from, mostly women are not allowed to talk in front of men," Leng'ete told Health. "Women are not allowed to address men, or to address a meeting when men are there. So it's not something that was easy . . . It took me three years just for them to accept me because I was a woman."

"The key word is patience," she said. "It's about giving them time, taking it slow. I'm from that community, I'm not from any other community, so we speak the same language."

Leng'ete told the audience at Women Deliver how her patience and persistence in providing education paid off:

"One by one, the men came to understand that the cut was bad for the whole community. People really started to listen. After years of perseverance, something started to shift. The elders persuaded the rest of the village to abandon the cut. They replaced the pain and fear with a new ceremony that celebrated the dreams of every girl. It is such a beautiful moment. The elders bless the girls as they always did, but now they bless them to be able to continued their education before getting married and having children."

In addition, Leng'ete said that she was allowed to attend a meeting of cultural leaders in 2014, where they created an oral Constitution that would stop FGM among Maasai communities. As a result, 17,000 girls have been saved from the cut. Because of her effective advocacy, Leng'ete was named one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

Millions of girls are still at risk of FGM, which is why support for sexual and reproductive health is vital.

Female genital mutilation has been a right of passage for girls and women in various countries for centuries. Though its origins are unclear, evidence of FGM has been found in Ancient Egypt as well as Ancient Rome. As the world has grown smaller and knowledge has increased, the practice has become a heinous symbol of patriarchal control for many. But in communities where it is still practiced, tradition and cultural identity have outweighed education about sexual health and well-being.

That's changing, thanks to activists like Nice Leng'ete. She says the key is to educate people about why the cut is harmful and then let the community create alternative rituals to mark coming-of-age. Experience shows that such change is far more effective when it comes from within the community itself, where cultural knowledge and understanding can bridge gaps and smooth transitions.

Where outside influence can help is with resources and funding of grassroots education and advocacy efforts. For example, Leng'ete has worked with Amref to establish sexual and reproductive health training programs that accompany alternative coming-of-age rituals, and that education is vital for everyone in the community.

It's important to remember that sexual and reproductive health advocacy is not just—or even mainly—about abortion. Supporting women's reproductive health initiatives helps end harmful practices like FGM and child marriage as well. (You can read more about Leng'ete and Amref's goal to end FGM by 2030 here.)

Here's to strong, courageous young women like Nice Leng'ete taking a stand and changing the world for the better.

Watch Leng'ete tell her story at Women Deliver starting at minute 12:13:

The Power of Agency: Changemakers on surviving and preventing gender-based violencewww.youtube.com

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

The mesmerizing lost art of darning knit fabric.

For most of human history, people had to make their own clothing by hand, and sewing skills were subsequently passed down from generation to generation. Because clothing was so time-consuming and labor-intensive to make, people also had to know how to repair clothing items that got torn or damaged in some way.

The invention of sewing and knitting machines changed the way we acquire clothing, and the skills people used to possess have largely gone by the wayside. If we get a hole in a sock nowadays, we toss it and replace it. Most of us have no idea how to darn a sock or fix a hole in any knit fabric. It's far easier for us to replace than to repair.

But there are still some among us who do have the skills to repair clothing in a way that makes it look like the rip, tear or hole never happened, and to watch them do it is mesmerizing.

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Nurse turns inappropriate things men say in the delivery room into ‘inspirational’ art

"Can you move to the birthing ball so I can sleep in the bed?"

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Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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