31 August 2012

Rwanda: Why I Hate Miss Rwanda

Photo: The New Times
Miss Rwanda 2012, Aurore Mutesi Kayibanda, together with Natacha Uwamahoro, the first runner-up (R) and Ariane Murerwa, second runner-up.

Well, let me clarify on that. I don't hate either the girls who unfortunately compete or the eventual winners. Actually I fully support young Rwandan women striving to achieve something, even if it is being considered the most beautiful girl in Rwanda. Everyone has their own goals.

Do the organisers understand the ramifications of teaching young women, that the easiest way to win a new car and attract certain notoriety is to have a certain

standard of beauty and be able to sashay down a catwalk in an evening gown?

If you live under a rock, unable to tune into any of the ubiquitous local radio stations, the 2012 Miss Rwanda will be crowned today at the Gikondo Expo grounds here in Kigali. This after a month of boot-camp where they underwent "intensive" social media training, discussed charity and entrepreneurship and learnt the most important thing a woman should know; how to maintain their hair.

This event is quickly becoming extremely popular amongst Rwandans and the PR campaign for the event is top notch. It seems like everyone will make the trip to Gikondo tonight. But before you go, I want you to ask yourself, what does this beauty pageant add to our society or the advancement of young women?

People will argue that it is good to see beauty pageants get introduced to our typically conservative society and yes, I will agree with them on that point. Our society DID need some local entertainment but I must ask, at what cost?

I don't understand why the Government is supporting such events, which will cost a whopping Rwf 120 million, when we don't even have sufficient local community centres where youth can participate in various programs.

You have the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ministry of Education and the Rwanda Development Board amongst many other government institutions financially supporting this beauty pageant when you probably have schools in the rural areas that don't have a library or a computer lab. The Ministry of Culture has decided to attach buzzwords like "tradition" and "culture" to this event so that it can be more acceptable to society while RDB has decided to put this under their tourism department. But, hold on a second, since when have young women become tourist attractions?!

Do the organisers understand the ramifications of teaching young women, that the easiest way to win a new car and attract certain notoriety is to have a certain standard of beauty and be able to sashay down a catwalk in an evening gown?

The winner of this year's contest will have the opportunity to participate in the Miss World pageant. While this contest will give our winner the opportunity to travel the world, what is the overall damage at the end of the day?

The organizers need to realize that international competitions come with international standards of beauty. I have always believed that Rwandan women have healthy amounts of self-confidence and know that they derive their dignity and self-worth from what they achieve through hard work and not their looks. Major body image issues like eating disorders that result from low self-esteem and self-confidence are not common amongst girls here because they know their 'Agaciro'. Once you begin to dictate what is the ideal height and weight of women, you run the risk of young girls concentrating more on how they look, rather than the more important things in life.

I'm very disappointed in the Government for attaching itself to such a farce. Especially when you have organizations like Imbuto Foundation working hard to empower young girls. Their educational programmes help create real self-confidence in young girls, by concentrating on the achievements that they work for and not the physical attributes they are born with. A Ministry of Culture official says that Miss Rwanda will help "promote young Rwandan women in both their intellectual and aesthetic qualities". I did not know the aesthetic qualities of young Rwandan women such an important issue that the Government had to step in.

However, I DO know that one of our national development goals is to create a strong knowledge based society but instead of sponsoring and organizing national educational competitions like spelling bees, math competitions, science fairs, sports events, or investing in schools that develop real talent in the fields of music, drama, and dance , the Ministry of Culture and RDB have shown that flaunting yourself in a bikini and a nice dress will get you more recognised than your other natural talents.

In countries like the USA, they can have all the beauty pageants they want because they have developed various ways for young people to succeed in their interests like Scripps Spelling Bees or have schools like the world renowned Julliard School, where kids go to develop their artistic talents.

We need tore-evaluate our national priorities. What kind of future leaders, more especially women leaders, are we producing?

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