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WORLD'S FIRST ALBINO BEAUTY PAGEANT DEFIES DEADLY STIGMA

NAIROBI, Oct 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With its evening gowns, celebrity judges and tears of joy, the beauty pageant in Kenya's capital was like others elsewhere, except for one thing - all 20 contestants who strutted, sashayed and swaggered down the catwalk had albinism. In the world's first contest of its kind, 10 men and 10 women competed in the Mr and Miss Albinism Kenya pageant this month in Nairobi. Its motto was "Beauty Beyond the Skin". The competition, which drew a crowd of about 1,000 including Deputy President William Ruto, was designed to celebrate people with albinism - who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes - and challenge stigma and persecution. "Even when I was dating, it was difficult for girls to say I'm handsome," said Isaac Mwaura, Kenya's first parliamentarian with albinism and founder of the Albinism Society of Kenya, which organised the pageant.

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HOW KENYAN WOMEN BROKE THEIR SILENCE ON HIV AND ESCAPED POVERTY

Joyce Nipher takes anti-retroviral drugs to combat her HIV diagnosis in her home in Nairobi. “People hide their status because there is fear. If you are a woman and you want a man, or you’re a man who needs a woman, people don’t want you,” says Nipher. “This is why they hide their status. “People have a high knowledge of HIV transmission in some countries … 96 percent know it’s sexually transmitted, but 25 percent would not buy food if they knew the person selling it was HIV positive,” says Simao. “This is not rational, because you know it’s not transmitted by contact. The money she’s made with funding from WAS has enabled Nipher to move out of Kijiji, where houses are made from corrugated iron, to the neighboring, concrete community of Kibera.

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DANGEROUSLY CHEAP: KENYA'S ILLEGAL ABORTIONS

Nairobi, Kenya - In the wood-panelled interior of Nairobi's High Court, a battle is due to begin on December 15 that will determine whether hundreds of thousands of women each year are committing criminal acts. The issue of abortion in Kenya has been mired in confusion and contention for the past six years. In 2010, a new constitution was passed, heralded globally as a progressive foundational document for its principles of gender equality in parliament; freedom of media; and formation of an independent Human Rights and Equality Commission to investigate human rights abuses The trouble is that much of what was included has met resistance and debate.

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BOXING FOR CHANGE

Nairobi, Kenya - In a darkened hall deep inside a slum in Kenya's capital Nairobi, the air is filled with the scent of sweat, Olympic dreams and the thwack of flesh connecting with flesh. Kenya is known for its running talent, yet among the 99 medals awarded to Kenyan athletes since the country first started participating in the Olympics, one other category stands out: boxing. The hall, which is not even connected to an electrical supply, hosts the 200-member Dallas Boys. Between them, they own only four sets of boxing gloves, one punching bag and some homemade skipping ropes. Despite that, the club has produced a host of national talent including two of the three 2016 Kenyan boxing Olympians - Peter Mungai Warui and Benson Gicharu Njangiru.

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PUMPING IRON WITH THE GCC'S FIRST FEMALE BODYBUILDER

Dubai - In 1997, an overweight Bahraini teenager decided she wanted to become a bodybuilder. Eighteen years later, that young girl, Haifa al-Musawi, is set to become the first woman to represent any Gulf Arab nation in the sport she was inexplicably drawn to at age 14. "I don't know if I should cry or smile now," she said of the news. "Cry because it took me so long, or smile and just be happy about it." The worst part, she said, has been the prejudice she has faced in being a woman competing in a predominantly male sport.

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TAKING BACK THE REINS: DUBAI'S FEMALE BIKERS IN CONTROL

Dana Adam* is from a powerful conservative family in Yemen, where women invariably wear hijabs, don’t drive and need their husband’s permission to leave the house. But aged 32, the Dubai-based mother-of-two learned to ride a motorbike - and not just any motorbike, but a Harley Davidson. What possessed her? Her answer is disarmingly frank. “Because I was depressed. Really depressed, since 2000,” she answers with sincerity.

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FIGHTING THE SYSTEM FROM THE INSIDE

She works long and exhausting hours trying to juggle commitments. While she says the work took her “without mercy” from journalism, it is this work that most touches her heart. In the western world, debtors’ jails are a horrific Dickensian relic of the past. But in Egypt, citizens can be locked away for accruing debts as trifling as $70. Now she hopes for a future where her husband is out of prison and has a job, and they can afford furniture for their bare home. This may be viewed as a grotesque or selfish choice. What does Mostafa think about the decision?

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ADOPTING ORPHANS AND BREAKING TABOOS IN DUBAI

On April 23, 2013, Dr Aysha Albusmait did something that would change her life forever. Confiding in no one, except an aunt, she went to a government agency and got herself a daughter. It was love before first sight she says of the then three-year-old Reem who was to turn her world upside down. There is a conspiracy of silence, she says. Adoption is not taboo, but talking about it is. While many people still hold the belief adoption is harem in Islam, the Qur’an, she says, actually emphasises the importance of caring for orphans.

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AFTER 70,000 YEARS OMAN'S UNIQUE WHALES FACE POTENTIAL THREAT

Every year from June through August, something magical happens in southern Oman that occurs almost nowhere else in the Arab world – it rains. It buckets down actually, in monsoon quantities. This starts a feeding frenzy from the bottom of the food chain up, with fish like sardines exploding in numbers. The rest of the year, the water is warm and calm – perfect breeding conditions The local man was just seven the first time he saw one of these gentle giants of the sea, which grow up to 16-metres long.

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"THIS IS DAILY LIFE" IN SHATILA REFUGEE CAMP

Behind the grey walls of southern Beirut’s overrun Shatila camp, young children play video games inside makeshift arcades and men chat animatedly through barbershop windows. A genial painting of Yasser Arafat’s face looks on and posters incite young people to join the perennial fight to liberate the motherland; it is more Palestine than Lebanon. UNRWA says of the camp: “Environmental health conditions in Shatila are extremely bad. Shelters are damp and overcrowded and many have open drains.” In the years he has been advocating for Lebanese Palestinian refugees, Moujahed has noticed a distinct shift in the attitude of the Western world.

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THE CASE OF THE SEALED ENVELOPE: OMAN'S PATH TO SUCCESSION

It could all come down to a sealed envelope with a mystery name penned inside. But what if more than one name is revealed? This intrigue doesn’t relate to a Hollywood-style awards ceremony, but the rather more grave matter of the fate of a nation: Oman. For a majority of the country’s decidedly young population, Sultan Qaboos is the only leader they have ever known. The public affection is obvious. Social media has become a virtual shrine in recent months, recognising the measured and calm decades of steady leadership.

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SAVING OMAN'S DAGGERS: WOMEN CUT TO THE CHASE

Looking into the wizened faces of the men gathered at Salalah’s weapons souk, seated in deckchairs in a disjointed line, is like gazing back in time. So why doesn’t he keep the gun for himself? “For tradition [these weapons] are still important but it’s from the past, khallas,” he said using the Arabic word for “over”. “We don’t need it.” Then he reconsidered – guns may be important as protection for farmers herding livestock, given the presence of the Arabian wolf in this southern part of the country, just a mountain range away from Yemen.

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