Subverting the Crown
Feminists and Women’s Rights activists do not usually agree with what at times is considered as exploitation of the bodies of young girls considered as beauty pageants. Their bodies are displayed to demonstrate their beauty and very little is gained from it.
Beauty contests are common in many parts of the world from institutions like colleges, Universities and at community level where competitions are held at different levels leading to national and international contests.
It may be difficult to see or understand the positive aspects of such competitions based on the beauty of the young female if you are a critic of those who display women’s bodies before they are supported in one way or the other. For instance some will get support to further their education or engage in other enterprising ventures as well as bask in the glory of being crown as the most beautiful amongst the competitors.
In Africa beauty is usually associated to “black beauty”. However, a closer look into our societies gives a different reality. In the Gambia most women are dark in complexion but beauty is usually associated to light skin women. It is even considered therapeutic to have a light skin woman as established in a common Mandinka saying ‘musu koyo sasa boro’.
Twenty year old Madeline Awa Jallow is one of the ‘musu koyos’. A young woman living with her mother strives to subvert the Beauty Pageant Crown in a district contest sponsored by KGI International (Kanilai Group International) held in Lamin, Kombo North.
Amongst the competitors, Madeline Awa chose female genital mutilation – FGM as her platform in the beauty competition. The stories about the effects FGM has on her friends motivated her to choose the topic. Her visit to GAMCOTRAP few days before the competition coincided with GAMCOTRAP’s training with youth networks from the West Coast Region, a great opportunity to learn more about FGM. This strengthened her resolve that no matter what the outcome of the competition; she was determined to talk on FGM.
Indeed Madeline Awa Jallow won the Beauty Pageant Crown 2011 for Kombo North District and FGM was her platform for discussion in the presence of many dignitaries. In her own words she said “Ever since I was in Senior Secondary school I was curious about it. We are made by god and we should be content with how we are. I decided to talk about FGM because we are created by God. If at all the clitoris would bring problems to women..., I don’t think God would put it there...I feel very proud wearing the Crown. When I came to GAMCOTRAP and I saw the videos, FGM is painful and I felt bad. I would advise young girls and the nationals at large to stop FGM and know that we are created by God.”
Commenting on the issue, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray described the initiative as an innovation to change the Beauty Queen Crown from “a body show to a Crown of Development” and pledged that GAMCOTRAP will continue to work with Madeline and other young people to create a better future for women and children. GAMCOTRAP will support the beauty pageant engage in advocacy reaching to other youths. Congratulations to Madeline for a creative approach to beauty pageantry.
Amie Bojang-Sissoho Programme Coordinator -IEC GAMCOTRAP