Does Rwanda need beauty pageants?

IN THE POST-Genocide Rwanda, the hullaballoo of selecting beauty queens or rather ‘Misses’ as they are better known, started about seven years ago at the National University of Rwanda (NUR).
There are about a dozen girls who are elected and crowned as ‘beauty queens’ form various contests every year.  The New Times/  File.
There are about a dozen girls who are elected and crowned as ‘beauty queens’ form various contests every year. The New Times/ File.

IN THE POST-Genocide Rwanda, the hullaballoo of selecting beauty queens or rather ‘Misses’ as they are better known, started about seven years ago at the National University of Rwanda (NUR).

This competition saw one Sharon Akanyana win the 2006 Miss NUR, sparking the beginning of beauty pageants in different categories.

Shortly after, it spread to other higher learning institutions, secondary schools and even the government embraced the idea leading eventually the first Miss Rwanda in 2009.

Now, about a dozen of girls are elected and crowned as ‘beauty queens’ every year.

But, the organisers, and the ‘queens’ have to some extent faced sharp criticism from the public over the role of the queens in the community. Many have criticised the cost involved in the organisation of such events, which in turn, in the eyes of critics, makes a little impact in their respective communities.

Take, for example, the recent Miss Rwanda contest which was held in September last year.

Officially, the event cost over Rwf120 million – an amount that, the critics say, might have been used in other developmental programmes which, they argue, would make bigger impact on the lives of the population.

But, the issue of money would evidently not be a big deal if, in the eyes of the public, there were tangible outcome from the contests.

The major problems lies entirely on what the queens do that could justify the money.

What do the ‘talented, skilled and beautiful young ladies’ do that impacts the community?

Financial constraints

Still, the beauty queens stress, they are working though with limited resources.

Aurore Mutesi Kayibanda, the reigning Miss Rwanda, told The New Times that lack of financial capacity limits their intervention in communities, thus making their contribution minimal.

“We are faced with the lack of sponsorship to implement our projects,” Mutesi noted.

“After being crowned, we are left to fend for ourselves or at times get just a little support. Sometimes, organisers of such competitions do not honour their pledges,” she lamented.

But she maintains she is not lying idle. Mutesi said ever since she was crowned Miss Rwanda she has participated in different social and cultural events, which mainly targeted vulnerable individuals and the youth.

Above all, Mutesi says, she strives to remain a role model for other girls to learn from her, while at the same time, acting as an ambassador of the country.

But, she regrets that some of her activities and the initiatives of other beauty queens are getting no or little attention from the media, something she says might justify why some members of the public think the beauty queens are doing nothing.

Umwari Neema, the 2011 Miss Kigali Institute of Education (KIE), said she usually joins hands with other queens through their group ‘Smile Rwanda’ in charity and social actions like building houses for the poor, visiting the sick, donating various items to disadvantaged members of society and sensitising school girls on reproductive health, among others.

“We have ideas but we lack [financial] capacity to translate them into big actions which benefit our communities”, Umwari said.

“Our capacity is limited. Beauty Queens are not paid for that. Almost all we do come from our personal resources. You understand how limited our actions must be,” she observed. “We merely get moral encouragement but obviously there is no or little material support.”

Abuse

Dr Jean Pierre Higiro, who led the group that initiated the Miss Campus, told this paper that it is time to rethink the role of beauty queens in the society and how they are selected.

According to Higiro, the idea behind the beauty pageants was to promote self-confidence among local girls and ‘positive highlight of Rwandan girls’ beauty’-intellectually and aesthetically.

“But the rationale of the beauty contests has been abused,” Higiro decried.

“Everyone thinks they can organise a beauty contest and crown a Miss. That’s how we ended up having beauty queens in bars and things alike”.

“At the beginning, we were thinking of setting up a foundation to support their initiatives. But the way things evolved was not favourable.”

Higiro believes there is need to have resulted-oriented contests with a clear indication of what the organisers want to achieve and how they will accomplish the set targets.

“The Ministry of Sports and Culture should establish guidelines that organisers of beauty competitions must abide by or give responsibility to former queens to set them. Otherwise, the competitions will continue to be abused and the role of the crown holders will remain minimal,” Miss Neema notes.

Efforts to talk to the Director of Culture in the ministry, Lauren Makuza, yielded no results as our repeated calls went unanswered.

However big the challenges facing the beauty queens might be and whatever efforts they are making, one thing remains clear: that the role played by beauty queens must be emphasised.

Critics will keep regarding beauty contests as a waste of money and time. Only concrete actions will stop the critics’ hullabaloo.

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