THEY are probably the most popular social events across the globe. And in Rwanda it’s not any different. Beauty pageants are top on the local social calendar. As the search for Miss Rwanda 2014 reaches a critical stage, the old debate about morality and beauty pageants has come up.
Renowned Apostle Joshua Masasu has opened the lid on this debate. He has openly condemned beauty pageants equating them to vessels of immorality.
During a recent conference dubbed Women’s Destiny, the pastor urged parents not to allow their children to participate in beauty pageants.
“I appeal to all parents present here never to allow their children to participate in beauty pageants,” he told the congregation before asking, “Is it appropriate for Christians to compete to see who is more beautiful, yet we get the beauty from God? These competitions should not be there.”
The founder of Evangelical Restoration Church argues that people are the temple of God, so parading girls to compete for who is more beautiful is not glorifying God in any way.
“The spirit of competition is not good because the word of God says, ‘Don’t do anything to change yourselves into other beings or be competitive,’” the Apostle said.
He added that these competitions breed the vice of covetousness among people.
“When girls fail to win, they get desperate since they think that they are ugly yet we are all created in God’s image.”
The Pastor warned people who have participated in these competitions. “Usually the ending is bad for these people,” he warned.
The pastor’s remarks will not go well with the proponents of beauty pageants.
Proponents of the beauty pageants have scoffed at the pastor’s view of beauty pageants as a show of physical beauty and immorality. They claim that beauty pageants are more than just physical looks.
Jacqueline Ingabire, the reigning Miss Gender and a former student of Umutara Polytechnic University says beauty pageants are bigger than the narrow perception that people associate them with.
She argues that much as one’s appearance is a factor, “but intelligence, public speaking skills, confidence and the way one conducts herself matter a lot.”
Ingabire says all those attributes are considered during beauty pageants.
Ingabire’s view is echoed by Pastor Antoine Rutayisire.
“I don’t think there is a problem with parents allowing their daughters to participate as long as it is not immoral and doesn’t go against our culture,” says Pastor Rutayisire.
However he advises that beauty pageants must meet cultural standards of Rwandan society.
“If you ask girls to walk around half naked, then this goes against our culture. The organisers of these pageants should not go against the acceptable norms in terms of morality.”
Pastor Rutayisire’s daughter, Deborah Abiellah Isimbi, is the reigning Miss National University of Rwanda.
Since December last year, organisers of the Miss Rwanda 2014 beauty pageant have been to all corners of the country in search of the next title holder. At every location was a stage, with bright lights, for the contestants to strut in front of a panel of judges.
This year’s competition will be the third of its kind in Rwanda, though there have been smaller pageants held to select beauty queens of various institutions like Miss College of Business and Economics (CBE), Miss University of Rwanda College of Education and others.
The initiative has had varying receptions. For some it has been welcomed as a vehicle for girls’ empowerment that also gives them a chance to advocate for a cause close to them. Others have taken to criticising it, terming it an initiative that urges girls to expose their bodies and degrade themselves.
Former contestants speak out
Sandra Teta has previously participated in beauty pageants as a contestant and now plays part in organising the competitions. For her the competition and experience offer life lessons that would be hard to find elsewhere.
“Many times people look at beauty pageants as something that exposes young girls to different bad habits which is not true. Beauty pageants are actually an empowerment platform for women,” Teta says.
Though there have been instances where former beauty pageants take questionable behavioural paths, Teta says it should not be associated with the actual pageant.
“If a lady takes part in a beauty pageant and later involves herself in bad behaviours, it’s not because of participating in the beauty pageant. She probably had those manners long before, it’s just that she is more noticed after she participates in a beauty pageant because she becomes a public figure,” Teat explains.
The 22-year-old Teta represented Rwanda in the 2013 Miss University Africa pageant. She says she is a true testimony of how beauty pageants groom people into responsible and better people.
“As a person who has participated in beauty pageants and is still participating in them I’m very proud to say that the person I am today is because of that opportunity. I learnt how to express myself in public in a more confident and elegant way as a lady with values. I learnt that I have a big role to play in the development of this country as a young person and it gave me a chance to think about what I want in life and be a person others can learn from,” Teta explains.
Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) speaks out
Lauren Makuza, the Director of Culture, says participating in beauty pageants especially, Miss Rwanda, is not harmful at all. “Those people should understand that we all like different things, different work and have different talents. Besides we are a diverse society that has to be able to embrace certain changes if they provide good benefits for the country and for the people.”
MINISPOC, together with various sponsors are the organisers of Miss Rwanda.
This year’s edition is the third. Mukuza says; “We started this initiative as one of the ways to improve the entertainment industry in Rwanda and as an activity that people can invest. We are still behind but there’s steady improvement and slowly we will get there.”
He appreciated the previous winners for keeping a cool head amidst all the fame which didn’t get to their heads. “Fame is not easy to handle but these girls have managed to find a way. They have managed to make Rwanda compete on a global level but they have maintained the Rwandan culture which is very important.”
The ministry has always maintained its view that beauty pageants and in particular Miss Rwanda is a platform for women empowerment.
The ministry says Miss Rwanda 2014 is going to be a fertile ground for women empowerment. It will build their confidence and capacities in a bid to showcase their abilities using their beauty and skills, for the ultimate purpose of dignifying the Rwanda nation.
JoJo Nyandwi, 22, a waitress at Al Bashar restaurant in Gisenyi, Western
Province says it is a good idea to have these beauty pageants.
For example Miss Rwanda is a chance to represent the country and give it a positive image by showing dignity.”
“Young girls are also inspired by the title holder and aspire to be like her which motivates them. It is an initiative that should be encouraged and sustained,” she adds.
Is there value in beauty pageants?
I hate the fact that beauty contests are too highlighted on physical appearance. Women are judged primarily on their physical appearance in the competition, while their personal qualities are neglected. It’s true that some beauty contests include quizzes, asking the contestants to show their talent by answering questions which only require common sense. These questions are always very simple. The talented women may perform well in this section, but if they are not pretty enough, they cannot pass the first round and they will lose their chance of getting the first place.
Francine Umutoni, University student
In my opinion the beauty pageant industry has spent more time trying to make a profit on the insecurities and unrealistic hopes of contestants than on promoting their best interests and future. I feel this exploitation causes more harm than good and I would not object to some study to determine if this could be considered a form of psychological abuse. I feel that beauty pageants should be designed to teach poise and grace.
Sonia Batete, Parent
Who wouldn’t want to see their daughter voted the fairest in the whole country or among the contestants? Let’s put aside the trials that come with them and look at the privileges that come with being a beauty queen, you get to travel abroad, meet different people, and explore different cultures and it provides opportunity to learn various languages. Is that bad? It builds their confidence and skills.
Ephraim Manzi, Businessman
I don’t know what is wrong with people who think beauty pageants are harmful to society. Some of these can go on to be international supermodels or goodwill ambassadors who represent our country. We should understand that we are competing on a global stage that has many platforms where people can earn. These contestants will not all be beauty queens but they have made a name for themselves that they can use when starting projects or finding work.
Michel Rugomwa, District official