It promises to be a beauty contest and a talent show with a difference. While the country has seen beauty contests over the years, it has never experienced one whose contestants and models are persons with albinism.
For years, people with albinism have stayed in the sidelines. Watching as young people strut their stuff on the ramp. Now things are about to change with the introduction of Mr and Miss Albinism. Besides promoting fashion and beauty, the event will be used to dymystify beliefs that when turned into charms, body parts of persons with albinism can bring good fortunes plus enormous wealth.
The Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) states that the country has recorded 146 cases of human rights violations, including killings, tomb exhumations, abductions targeting its members, bringing severe trauma to victims and their families alike.
So, the beauty contest and talent show is part of educating the public on the various myths surrounding persons with albinism (PWAs).
To be held on September 7 at Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc), the competitions is one of the sustainable ways by Apam to bring positive stories about its members with the aim of harnessing change.
“People with albinism remain the target of attacks, killings, deadly stigma and discrimination in Malawi and beyond. The event, therefore, aims at demystifying their condition and affirm their inherent dignity.
“The contest is not just a pageant, but a way to raise awareness and inclusion for people who albinism is still profoundly misunderstood in our communities where it is associated with myths, superstition and deeply entrenched cultural beliefs which lead to marginalisation and socio-economic exclusion of PWAs,” said Peter Kanyenda, focal person for the organising committee.
Within Africa, there have been a number of pageants organised with the aim of bringing so much change and demystifying myths surrounding PWAs.
The first ever edition of Mr. and Miss Albinism East Africa was held last year and brought together 30 contestants from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in Nairobi to crown young people with albinism.
Similarly, Kenya as a country has hosted the beauty pageant and the successes registered which include the winners being agents of change are some of the motivation for Apam.
“We have studied and we continue to study how similar events have been conducted. Zimbabwe, Kenya, Guinea and other countries have successfully done it,” said Kanyenda.
This is not the first time that PWAs have been incorporated in the world of beauty, fashion and glamour.
In 2016, arguably at the peak of attacks, abductions and killings, organisers of the defunct Fashion and Glam enlisted the services of PWAs as models.
They rocked the ramp in assorted outfits including trendy ready to wear couture, a move that was hailed by many fashion aficianados.
Through the theme We Are Just Like You, the pageant will bring participants from every part of the country and will crown best performing contestants under different categories among the young persons with albinism.
“There is a Scouting Sub-Committee entrusted with the recruitment, mentorship, a series of workshops as well as auditions.
In liaison with Apam’s 28 functioning district chapters, the auditions will be done at regional level.
“We have cast our net as wide as possible targeting 40 contestants for both the pageant and talent show. The organising committee is still thinking through the different categories and judges are being engaged as their input need to be solicited,” he said.
The event will be hosted annually.
He said beyond the event, the winners will not be forgotten; they will continue to play ambassadorial functions of promoting untapped talent among PWAs.
The Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (Fedoma) has backed the move saying it is a step in the right direction.
“The myths surrounding PWAs have disturbed their lives. We have to be exhaustive as possible in ensuring that rights of PWAs are safeguarded,” said Fedoma head of programmes, Simon Munde. n