Organisers of Miss Rwanda say they are cognisant of a recent petition set up by feminists, and activists demanding for changes in the way the pageant is organised, and to ensure the protection of contestants from vile attacks.
The petition set up on January 31, followed a wave of social media debates triggered by attacks targeting some contestants, while others called for the scrapping of the pageant, because of the requirements for contestants which are discriminatory in nature.
Organisers of the contest, however, say some of the demands are unrealistic and ignore the reforms the pageant has undergone in recent years and the quality of organisations and reach, as well as putting winners on the international stage.
Among the demands set out in the petition is the need for more investment in the projects of contestants, with the petitioners saying that the organisers should invest what they get from sponsors in the projects of the contestants and at the same time invest in the continued humanisation of the girls.
“It is our hope that the winner of Miss Rwanda will one day be Miss Earth, Miss World, Miss Universe, a “first” in these pageants and be the voice of African women and Africa as a whole to the world,”
“This we believe has the potential to inspire the Black African child to see themselves, to dream, transform, be motivated and pursue their goals,” the petition reads in part.
It adds that “consequently, it is our hope that in achieving this goal for Miss Rwanda, we are able to nurture, encourage and inspire all current and future contestants involved by ensuring that their safety (mental and physical), dignity and interests are protected during the entire pageant process.”
The petition was triggered by recent attacks targeting contestant Aisha Uwase, who made her case of defilement as a child know. Uwase said her project aimed at fighting gender-based violence was informed by her own experience.
Some social media users targeted her, accusing her of seeking public sympathy as the contest enters its competitive phases, while others said she was supposed to keep it a secret. Some other vile users also targeted the looks of some contestants to the chagrin of feminists.
The comments infuriated feminists and activists, who pushed Miss Rwanda organisers to do more to protect the contestants. The petition which calls for reforms targets 1, 000 signatures but it has so far been signed by more than 700.
“Miss Rwanda Organisation appreciates the proposed ideas which affirm the main reasons the contest was created, which is to empower women and girls. We will continue to welcome all positive ideas that contribute to the betterment of the contest,”
“As we said recently, it is a shame that some individuals have taken it upon themselves to denigrate and dehumanise some of the contestants through social media. Miss Rwanda condemns these despicable acts and we call upon everyone involved to stop this,” a statement from the organisers reads.
Miss Rwanda organisers cautioned all those involved in acts of shaming, dehumanising, denigrating and humiliation of the contestants to stop the acts which go against the culture and beliefs of Rwanda and Rwandans who traditional aspire to encourage young girls and boys to pursue their dreams.
The organisers also said they remain keen on improving organisation as well as the benefits the contestants get, highlighting that today, the winner gets a brand new car unlike in the past while a total of 7 out of the 10, who goes into the finals get awarded in one way or another –not just the winner or runners-up.
The organisers noted that with more support, many of the projects of the contestants can be funded but currently the organisers, who mobilise support from sponsors, cannot finance all the projects of the contestants.
“We remain open to ideas of how we can improve the contest further and for any support towards ensuring that the contestants contribute more to national development,” the statement adds.
They highlighted the progress the contest has registered over the years, including putting the winners into international competitions such as Miss World.
Current Miss Rwanda 2019 Meghan Nimwiza and Miss Rwanda 2016 Jolly Mutesi are among those who came to the defence of the pageant, dismissing those who claimed that it is discriminatory and doesn’t empower girls.
Nimwiza said that it is important that people truly understand what Miss Rwanda means to her and the ladies contesting today and to anyone who has Miss Rwanda at heart because being one of the many young ladies who have been empowered by Miss Rwanda, she believes it is her responsibility to share with the people the true definition of Miss Rwanda.
“I’m also here as a lady that was once where these girls are today. Miss Rwanda 2019. I believe Miss Rwanda is a project that has improved over the years and still is and I personally applaud the growth; and to me it is an opportunity for young girls (including myself) not just to be beautiful but also make Rwanda beautiful,”
“So the least we can do is support the idea behind the pageant; making sure the Rwandan women are celebrated, investing in them to bring up more servant leaders, teaching them that there’s more to them than just being beautiful,” she said in a series of tweets.
She urged the public to help the girls realize their dreams and achieve their goals instead of putting them down
“I’m dark skinned, I’m not exactly the definition of “skinny”, I wasn’t the tallest in the competition, and everything else that is being brought as criticism to the competition and that night I walked off that stage with a crown on my head,” she said, dispelling claims that the contest is discriminatory.
“All this to say that I stand as living proof that Miss Rwanda celebrates a GIRL not a certain group of “girls” that look a certain way, so let’s all stop making these young ladies feel any less beautiful, any less celebrated or any less loved,” Nimwiza said.
“And to those criticising the organisation I’ll remind you that it’s easier to see the few things that aren’t going right but if you look closely the positive things we’ve decided to ignore completely outweigh the negative things we keep pointing out,” she concluded.
On February 1, 20 girls were selected for the boot camp. The finale is set for February 22.