The winner of the 2008 Miss Landmine Angola pageant was announced on Wednesday. Her name is Augusta Urica, 31, and she lost part of her leg when she stepped on a mine. She competed in a contest with seventeen other women, each representing an Angolan province. According to The International Herald Tribune, Ms. Urica received a custom-made artificial limb, USD $2,500, and a variety of domestic appliances.
As with some BBC articles I come across, there was a far more nuanced back-story here than what was actually presented. The bloggers at Wronging Rights point out in their tongue-in-cheek take on the contest, some of the controversy that has been dredged up. For example, some people take issue with pageant founder and director, Morten Traavik’s partial conception of the contest as a “performance art piece.” See his interview on Orato for more details on that.
I certainly had plenty of thoughts about the pageant. On a positive note, Traavik’s contest seeks to increase attention to the plight of the tens of thousands of Angolans who have been maimed by mines, since the devices were first placed during the civil war. Bolstering disability pride and visibility is also a notable goal of this project. My main point of contention is over the distribution of resources and the contest nature of Traavik’s pagaent.
Clearly a great deal of money was spent on the official website, PR, and other elements of the pageant. How many pairs of crutches, artificial limbs, or training workshops for prosthetists could have been funded instead? Furthermore, only the pageant winner got a custom-made limb. What about the other seventeen women who were courageous enough to compete in public in a society (and a world in general) where great stigma exists for people who are disabled? I’m in favor of a more equitable and realistic distribution of resources in the future for this pageant.
Land mines continue to be an extreme problem throughout much of the world, so it’s good that this pageant is drawing attention to that fact. According to Handicap International, People in 84 countries and 8 territories are currently affected, and Angola is one of the worst affected countries in the world. More than 10 nations are still producing land mines.