Nepali Times
Witch hunt hits wrong target


The Miss Nepal 2008 beauty pageant, slated to be held at the army headquarters last weekend, was postponed again?for the fourth time. The women's wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women's Organisation-Revolutionary said the contest discriminated against certain ethnic groups and against shorter and darker women. They claimed it demeaned women by using them to advertise toothpaste and shampoo.

Hours before the event was scheduled to take place the organisers got a notice from the DAO asking them to cancel the show as the event threatened to create 'a law and order problem'.

Every year, women's organisations protest outside the contest venue, but after the pageant is over and the winner crowned, the protests fizzle out and everyone goes home happy. This year, however, the protests have been stepped up. Demonstrators stormed the offices of Dabur Nepal, the official sponsor, and made threatening phone-calls to contestants.

The lure of this beauty contest is that the crowned winner will get to represent Nepal at other international beauty competitions. In the last 14 years none of our girls have made it pass the first round, but we are willing to overlook that because they do get international exposure and return to Nepal more confident. And the winner, apart from becoming the face of the sponsor and brand ambassador for a few organisations, doing a few modelling assignments and dabbling in a few social causes, doesn't have to do much. They all say that they want to alleviate poverty, help the hungry and end conflict, but 12 months is just not enough time to achieve that.

When Miss Nepal 2008 was postponed, the contestants and their parents organised a press conference and said that the ban violated women's rights. There was some truth in that. Forget women's rights: what about the rights of these young ladies to make a decision about their own lives? All the contestants are over 18?an age where you are allowed to vote, drink, buy pornography and get married without parental consent. Does the Maoist-led government think that suddenly these young women could not make informed decisions about how to live their own lives?

The current political leadership seemed to have no problem using 18-year-olds to fight their war and to campaign for the party during the election. When others didn't trust the Maoists, 18-year-olds like these young women went to the polling booths this year because they trusted the Maoists to be different.

The pageant's organiser, The Hidden Treasure, is a private entity that pays taxes to the government. It has set up offices in Birganj, Dharan, Butwal and Pokhara and has tried to be as inclusive as possible in selecting candidates. Why does the government, or any women's group for that matter, need to be involved in deciding who makes it to the finals when they are in no way involved in the entire process?

The ANWO-R has said that beauty contests do nothing to improve the lot of women. In case they had missed it, a new constitution is being written. Instead of these groups threatening contestants with physical violence, they could be pressing lawmakers to make the new constitution more gender-sensitive, ensuring that women's causes are better represented, and campaigning for more money from the budget to be directed at helping women. They should be trying to rescue thousands of Nepali women who are trafficked to the red light districts of Nepali and Indian cities.

Nightclub owners are out on the streets demanding their right to engage in far sleazier business than beauty pageants, but we don't hear ANWO-R condemning them. They seem to have no problem with dance bar operators making handsome profits from exploiting women's bodies. Perhaps they view dance bars as more 'proletarian' and therefore acceptable, whereas beauty pageants are 'capitalist' and should therefore be dismantled.

The Maoists haven't been consistent in their reasons for opposing Miss Nepal 2008. Other beauty pageants have been organised in the Valley in the past month and they chose to look the other way.

One wonders why there's so much antagonism towards Miss Nepal 2008. Why the witch hunt?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)