I am not a fan of beauty pageants but as someone in the business of brand strategy, being on the lookout for fresh opportunities is a must; it is in that context that I on Tuesday afternoon had lunch with four of Miss Rwanda finalists, the 1st and 2nd runners up, Miss Popularity and Tracy Ford, all fine young ladies with dreams bigger than a Boeing.
Then on Wednesday, as we marked the International Women’s Day, I received a WhatsApp message from a cousin who is seeking admission into Makerere University Law School. The message was an outline of requirements that candidates are expected to meet.
My cousin had underlined one of the many requirements, for my attention. It read; applicants must have passed A-level with at least 13 points for males and 12 points for females, candidates who did A-level before 2013 must have obtained 15 points for males and 14 points for females.
“Tell me Ken, why do people think we girls must get ‘favours’ to qualify for anything important? I find this so called ‘affirmative action for women’ very embarrassing,” she told me.
Now, my cousin is a really smart young woman with a deep passion for competition and I absolutely understand why she hates favours; she passed her high school with 22points, beating thousands of boys around the country who sat for the same exams.
“In fact, if 12 points is all I need to enter Law School, then I should be allowed to donate the extra 10 points that I have to some of my male classmates who need help to make thirteen points,” she ranted. And by all accounts her anger was justified.
To understand her viewpoint, we have to look at it this way; if a girl is admitted to law school on the basis of an extra point she didn’t earn, are we also suggesting that she will be relying on the judge’s sympathy to win cases for her clients? The answer is no.
In fact, such ‘affirmative action’ only breeds negative effects of reverse psychology in the sense that while we think the free point is to help the girl, in actual sense, it leads to stigma when girls gather in the forum of professionals, giving their male counterparts ammunition to fire at the intellectual capacity of their female counterparts.
Therefore, favours are not healthy for building’s girls’ confidence especially if there is evidence that girls can outperform their male colleagues in a competition under flat and non discriminatory rules. My cousin is a good example.
Favours are for bedrooms not boardrooms. We should stop assuming that women need favours to make it in life. No. They must be respected and seen as equal competitors. And I think the real danger to achieving gender parity lies in women who think favours can help us fill this gap.
I opine on this matter with a certain level of experiential authority because I am lucky to be employed by a woman-led organization; and in this country we have many; the easiest way to undermine their ability would be to think that they got into their roles on the basis of a favour.
But in the private sector world, favours are rare. Both male and female executives are judged by their respective board of directors based on the same yardstick; results. There are no additional profits earned by companies because they’re female led.
Which takes me back to my lunch with the girls; historically, beauty pageants have been projected as competitions that focus on judging and ranking the physical attributes of girls; ultimately, celebrating beauty and condemning the opposite. This is a medieval practice.
But during my interaction with the girls, I validated a long held personal belief that a girl’s true beauty is in her mind; beautiful as they are, I found their ideas more attractive than their physical attributes and that they had skills that needed more illumination than their looks.
It was relieving to know that the girls didn’t consider their beauty as an insurable asset but were committed to pursuing opportunities to develop their skills.
Professional footballers insure their legs to safeguard the skill; a farmer insures their garden to safeguard their harvest; what do beauty queens insure?
That got me thinking that perhaps future Miss Rwanda Pageants should actually be a practical competition of ideas, a contest of projects as opposed to good looks. Judges would be business analysts and venture capitalists whose work would be to pick the most bankable pitch.
It is something I will be suggesting to my friend Ishimwe Dieudonne, the brilliant mind behind Miss Rwanda; imagine a contest that teaches you how to pitch a project as opposed to how to look beautiful and model fashion labels.
In 2015, I toured a place in Ethiopia; it was a sea of beauties. But this was no beauty camp. It was the country’s domestic car assembling plant and girls were fixing engines, fitting gear-boxes and sorting the wiring system.
Watching a beautiful woman assemble a military tank is not only inspirational but also the best way to express respect for women’s physical and intellectual abilities.