Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Angolan Pageant That Seeks to Empower Women

Unlike most beauty pageants, these Angolan contestants wear their prosthetic limbs.  For this is Miss Landmine, a beauty pageant with a unique manifesto that aims to promote female and disabled pride and empowerment.

The event also aims to get people to re-examine established concepts of physical perfection, raise landmine awareness, and challenge inferiority and guilt complexes that hinder creativity in the historical, cultural, social and personal spheres. 

“Miss Landmine ultimately celebrates true beauty, and replaces the passive term of victim with the active term of survivor,” Miss Landmine director and creator Morten Traavik, a Norwegian artist.
Traavik’s unusual project came about in 2003 when he frequently visited war-torn Angola’s capital, Luanda, with his then-girlfriend who had an Angolan father. They could not travel much because of the thousands of landmines littering the countryside that claim countless lives each year. Angola is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries.

“It has been my objective all along that Miss Landmine would have a political or humanitarian impact. We only had one main criterion, that any woman or girl can participate as long as they wanted to. The women taking part are not being regarded as victims to be pitied. Rather, they are just like any other contemporary Angolan woman.”

In 2008, Traavik’s idea became a reality. He collaborated with local and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to disseminate information on the pageant that was open to women who had survived landmine explosions.

Miss Landmine was funded by the Norwegian Arts Council and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, which had played a pivotal role in the global ban against unexploded ordnance (UXO) in December 2008 in Oslo. The pageant was co-funded by the Angolan government and the European Union Mission to Angola.

Angola’s First Lady Ana Pauyla dos Santos crowned Augusta Hurica, 31, representing the province of Luanda, the first Miss Landmine Angola. Hurica won a specially designed and customised prosthesis worth US$15,000 (RM45,000) from one of Norway’s leading orthopaedic clinic.

“What do I see when I look at the pictures of Miss Landmine contestants? I see true beauty. I see beautiful women who are proud, dignified and comfortable with who they are. And that strong, feel-good factor is all the while undermined by the tragic stories of mutilation and war that inevitably stay with a landmine survivor.”

But has Miss Landmine made any difference? “I think Miss Landmine has raised awareness inside and outside Angola and Cambodia of the problem of landmine contamination and the identity of disabled people and landmine survivors in general,” says Traavik.

“Of course, Miss Landmine won’t make landmines go away, or change the participant’s lives overnight; it was not intended to. “What’s important is that Miss Landmine has been a tool for the participants to overcome prejudice, fear and discrimination. It allows them to highlight their abilities while acknowledging their disabilities, both to themselves and the outside world.” (By CHIN MUI YOON, The Star -

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