Friday, November 23, 2007

Beauty With Dignity

The Western world is accustomed to the public display of female beauty and the judging of it through the institution of beauty pageants. There are reactions to these public displays and to the message inherent in the pageants of women as objects betraying the ethos of bondage or liberation. Yet there are always ways in which such public displays can have a meaning outside of that which is usually associated with them.

The world is aware of the deadly scourge of maiming and disfigurement of civilians through the accidental demolition involved in the presence of anti-personnel mines, littering war-torn landscapes. Thousands upon thousands of these deadly devices are left over from war situations and often are located on arable land where peasants and farmers in third-world countries eke out their meagre living.

Countries as diverse as Cambodia, Bosnia, Zimbabwe and even the United Kingdom (mine clearing in the Falklands/Malvinas), are engaged in the life-affirming work of searching out and destroying these death traps. Angola succeeded in destroying its own stockpile of such devices last year and its land is gradually being cleared; a long-range project that could still extend into the next several decades.

Meanwhile, people inadvertently set off these land mines and in the process become their living victims, with amputated limbs and destroyed dreams for their futures. Angola is seen as one of the countries most seriously affected by land mines, with these unexploded weapons still littering the countryside, planted throughout decades of civil war. Mines and booby traps are unveiled in agricultural fields, under roads and even in schools.

About 80,000 people were injured by these mines during the civil war, and people continue to be victimized by their undetected presence. Rehabilitation services in the country are located geographically inconveniently for rural people. And even those facilities are capable of delivering assistance to a mere 25% of those that need them. In the last year alone roughly 140 Angolans were injured or killed by undetected land mines.

Now, an enterprising Norwegian film director has devised a way in which to attract the attention of the world to the problem, and just incidentally empowering disabled African women in the process. He has launched a beauty pageant where the contestants wear fashionable garments and pose seductively, smiling - in chairs, on beaches. They also have their crutches front and centre to balance the loss of a leg.

They look proud, defiant, graceful, and inexpressibly beautiful. Ten Angolan women injured by land mines have been selected to compete in the pageant. Interested viewers can see their images on line at www.miss-landmine.org, where information on each contestant can also be found - along with additional information about the types of land mines present in Angola and the costs of their disposal. Ballots can been cast for the winner, on line.

Two of the winning contestants will be crowned; a peoples' favourite and a jury-selected winner to coincide with the United Nations' International Mine Awareness Day, on April 4. The winners will be awarded prosthetic devices. Funding for the project has come from both Norway and the Angolan government. Jurists are to be selected from willing representatives of aid organizations.

These women are heroes of survival. Their beauty is transcendent. As representatives of a people whose fate it is to live with the daily reminder of a dreadful war of civil upheaval, they deserve attention and admiration. They are wondrously dignified and of surpassing physical beauty. Their defiance against their circumstances and their courage in the face of loss should stand as a lesson to all of us.

If life were fair and justice a rewarding experience, none of them would have to pose, to display their beauty in the hopes that they will prevail and be allowed free movement through the gifting of a prosthesis. The world is a weary place. With enough sponsors surely each woman could receive the gift of grace?

With enough people of good will there would be no wars, no victims. Dream on.

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