Beauty pageants are a trend that has picked pace in Rwandan society. Apart from the annual Miss Rwanda beauty pageant, the biggest event on the social calendar, almost every weekend there is a beauty pageant organised. Over the years, other smaller beauty contests have steadily picked momentum in schools, mostly secondary schools.
Organisers say these events are a platform to empower girls and they are organised amongst different schools with an overall winner crowned the beauty queen of high school.
However, last month Dr Papias Musafiri, the Minister for Education, put an end to these pageants, arguing that the practice could have an effect on the quality of education. The directive took immediate effect and affects schools right from nursery to secondary level.
Why the ban?
Lydia Mitali, the officer in charge of Girl Education at the Ministry of Education, explains that the Minister's decision to ban beauty pageants in high schools is justified, adding that schools organising such contests did not consult the Ministry.
She notes that there is nothing productive in subjecting students to beauty contests. It only distracts them from the primary reason why they are in school.
"We basically have no document filed on this programme, so banning pageants was the wise thing to do. As the Ministry of Education, we were not consulted yet the schools are our responsibility. Also, the pageants don't even give any productive results," Mitali says.
"If you look at the campaigns we carry in relation to girls' education or their wellbeing, the Miss High School pageant is nowhere to be seen in terms of contribution," she adds.
Mitali also shares her concerns as the person in charge of girls' education saying that such would only lead girls to taking the wrong paths all in search of facilities when it comes to sponsoring themselves in other pageants.
"I have been wondering who sponsors these students and whether they are getting the money from very wrong sources. It is shocking that they even managed to put the function at Kigali Serena Hotel, a place where even events that are sponsored by big companies don't consider as their first choice for a venue," she adds.
And with this, Mitali believes that the decision made was the right one since it's not only saving the quality of education but, the welfare of the girls too.
Annet Mutamuliza, the Director of King David Academy, believes that beauty pageants are more of a waste of time.
She says that beauty contests were not allowed in her school seeing that they were not even in line with the ethics of her school which are based on Christianity.
"As a Christian school we do not believe beauty pageants are in line with our foundation values. We mainly promote talents like public speaking and leadership and any other skills basing on what we teach our students of which fashion and design is not included," she points out.
The director argues that motivating their students to go for competitions like debating competitions is what is important since they want them to gain more important skills in life, like learning how to communicate better in public.
She cites Jolly Umutesi, a former student at King David and reigning Miss Rwanda, whose victory was partly as a result of her eloquence in public and that she attained such skills when she was still at school.
Mutamuriza applauds the ban saying that schools should instead focus on impacting skills rather than things like beauty pageants.
Samuel Nkurunziza, the headmaster of Kagarama Secondary School, shares a similar opinion saying that beauty pageants were mostly really disorganising students and not letting them concentrate on their academics.
He says that it's hard for students to take part in such and at the same time give their all in academics.
"I believe these students can't manage to balance education and preparations for beauty contests at the same time, it was obviously taking their time. Another concern I had is that these students are not sponsored, and they still have to dress to impress for them to look super beautiful but the problem is where on earth do they get this money from? And what happens when they lose? This was not helping at all in education," Nkurunziza says.
Parents speak out
Geoffrey Ntambara says that the ban was indeed inevitable seeing that the aim of it was mostly to see students prosper academically and this is the main reason for them to be in school.
However, Ntambara points out that the beauty pageants are more of co-curricular activities which should be allowed in school and can be helpful to students in terms of talent development.
"Such activities are a way of helping children discover what their real talents are, you can attain a degree in law but when you were cut out to be a runway model. These activities are important, they only need regulation to see that students balance them with academics," he suggests.
Hope Uwamahoro appreciates the ban because she believes it was taking students' time for revision. In fact, she calls upon the government to also think of banning concerts that are organised in schools where students are even charged money to attend.
"I also pray that they ban these concerts that take place in high schools, they not only consume students' time but they distract them too," Uwamahoro says.
The students' take
Lynette Mbabazi, a university student, says that the ban was not so much of a necessary step seeing that the event was just an annual event which barely disrupted students' academics.
"Even the brightest of students need a break from academics now and then, and it is such activities that help them relax," she says.
She, however, says that now that the pageants are out of the picture students can try and join other activities like sports.
Linda Umurerwa, a student at Glory Secondary School, says that she supports the ban of beauty pageants basing on how busy it makes schools when it's in the period of selecting a queen.
"Everyone is busy thinking of who is going to win, sometimes students even start to argue over that topic and they end up insulting each other or the contestants. It does not affect the devotees only, because even after the selections, those who lost find it hard to concentrate in class, and feel like failures. We all don't like it when we lose," she says.
Is the ban of beauty pageants in high schools necessary?
Yvonne Nirere, businesswoman
The ban of these beauty pageants was a right call because I see no value they add to the students.
This also brings me to Miss Rwanda as an event of its own, why are these events even consuming up people's time anyway?
I have never understood why people tolerate the idea of being judged by fellow humans about their physical appearance just for a crown.
Ferguson Wasswa, student
I think it is relevant banning these pageants seeing that they affect the students' concentration on studies yet it's the main reason for them to be in school in the first place.
Other activities that are not that time consuming can be explored.
Simon Kalisa, entrepreneur
I don't understand why the pageants were banned because I think they are part of the extra activities that students can participate in during their free time as a way to take a break from academics.
However, if the Ministry observes that they could be affecting academics in some way then I think the right thing to do is to ban them.
Charles Shyaka, student
There are better things students can participate in as co-curricular activities other than strolling around in high heels and displaying their beauty at such a tender age.
The fame that comes with those crowns can even mislead them since they are still young and not fully aware of who they really are or what they want to be.