Uganda’s junior minister for tourism this month sparked controversy by suggesting that curvy women could be promoted as a tourist attraction. Uganda earns billions of dollars off of wildlife tourism but, the idea of adding women to that list has generated heated debate about objectifying women.
Ann Mungoma was a judge at two pageants that showed that being slim should not be equated with beauty — Ms. Curvy Africa 2016 and Ms. Curvy Nigeria 2017.
“So, here we are giving a chance to the ladies and telling them, please, you’re most welcome," she said. "God created you that way, bless him for the way you are shaped, your size, come, we are giving you a platform to show the world that this is how we are. This is how Ugandan ladies are designed.”
But Mungoma’s plan to bring the well-rounded contest to Uganda this year has — well — hit a curve.
Godfrey Kiwanda, Uganda’s junior minister for tourism, sparked debate at the pageant’s launch. He said curvy women should be counted among the country’s tourist attractions — such as wildlife.
Kiwanda said Uganda’s tourism industry is facing stiff competition and should diversify.
“Tourism is not just about animals, it’s about our food, the way we walk, the way we were created, our curves,” he said.
Uganda’s women’s rights activists called Kiwanda’s objectifying women’s bodies a gross insult.
Some called for the Ms. Curvy Uganda beauty pageant to be cancelled.
Rita Aciro, the executive director of the Uganda Women’s Network, has been fighting for women and girl’s rights for the last 18 years.
She demanded the junior tourism minister apologize.
“He should stop using women’s bodies as sex objects. We are not. Not Ugandan women, not any African woman, not any woman in the world," she said. "Our bodies are not sex objects. We have equal brains, we have equal abilities, we just need equal opportunities.”
In the media and on the streets of Kampala, Ugandans had mixed views on the controversy and if the curvy contest should continue.
Some insulted women who would take part in the beauty pageant while others defended them.
University student Georgia Nakyonza said she would join the contest if she qualified.
“It’s not bad, it doesn’t mean that if you go for Miss curvy you are a protest, you are selling off your body. Actually, the way they put on is just the way models put on,” she said.
Uganda’s Tourism Board has distanced itself from the Ms. Curvy pageant, saying it will concentrate instead on promoting the country’s current attractions.