Ugandan activists continue to call for the cancellation of a beauty contest meant to promote tourism by holding a “curvy women” contest in the country. Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda sparked outrage in early February when he unveiled the “Miss Curvy Uganda” contest. Critics say the pageant objectifies women and promotes sex tourism.
KAMPALA, UGANDA (REUTERS) – Activists in Uganda have urged organisers to cancel a beauty contest that seeks to attract more visitors by showcasing “curvy women” saying objectifies women and promotes sex tourism.
Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda sparked outrage in early February when he unveiled the “Miss Curvy Uganda” contest, saying the east African nation had “naturally endowed” women who should be used as “a strategy” to boost tourism.
Women’s rights activists, politicians, church leaders and ordinary Ugandans said the contest was “state-sponsored objectification of women” and was treating women as though they were wildlife. Some are calling on Kiwanda to resign.
Eunice Musiime is a women’s rights activist based in Kampala.
“We consider this as something that is dehumanising, degrading and despicable for women because women are not cultural artefacts that can act as tourism products. Uganda is endowed with nature and those can be products that can be developed. But our women cannot be products for tourism. So we consider this as sexual objectification of women and that is why we are opposed to it,” she said.
More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the tourism ministry to abandon the pageant and apologize to the public.
Ann Mungoma, the chief executive of “Miss Curvy Uganda” has defended the event, saying it has been misunderstood and that the pageant seeks to celebrate voluptuous women and wants to encourage them to embrace their curves.
“Where the objectification came from, the sex tourism came from I wouldn’t even know. But I think people said it out of ill will and it was not good and I say our event is positive with no attachment to such words,” she said.
“When this pageant came up, the miss curvy, I felt appreciated because at one point I would tell someone, I am not fat anymore, I am curvy. And actually just to fit in society I related myself to be plus size. My status, I called myself plus size just to fit in society,” said Mariah Praise Nansamba, a contestant.
Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit annually to experience its diverse wildlife reserves, home to half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas.
A human rights activist in the country has also sued Kiwanda and organizers of the pageant saying the contest is degrading and discriminative.
Critics say vulnerable women and girls were already being trafficked from Uganda overseas for sex, and the move by the ministry of tourism would encourage the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls at home.
“We live in a society where sexual violence is quite high. We also live in a society that criminalises sex work but at the same time we are being told that women can participate in a Miss Curvy contest but then it wasn’t really about a miss curvy contest. The minister of tourism said — when you look at Ugandan women they are endowed, they should be able to attract tourists to this space. So the context of where this is happening matters and it is very hard to separate the two. So with a society that is highly sexualised it is very hard to know that even if women participate in this contest, that there are safe guards for their protection from sexual harassment, from being used and from being abused,” said Musiime.
Some Ugandans on social media argue the beauty contest would help to challenge the Western stereotype that only slim women are beautiful, saying the pageant celebrated the diversity of all body shapes, including those of African women.