Landmines, Beauty Pageants, and Jimmy Carter

An article I wrote that was published on Causecast and Intent today.

Imagine: a beauty pageant where the contestants are missing limbs and scars run across their bodies. Imagine that this beauty pageant judges the contestants on their mental strength and courage. Now imagine that the world at large begins to question established concepts of "physical perfection."

This is the goal of the Miss Landmine beauty pageant in Angola, Africa. 18 contestants, one representing each of Angola's provinces, compete to challenge inferiority and guilt complexes that hinder personal empowerment after being handicapped from landmine explosions.

Angola's civil war ended six years ago, but as many as eight million landmines remain buried in the soil. According to the United Nations Mine Action Center, landmines claim at least 300 victims a year in Angola alone.

While the Miss Landmine project seems like a pretty empowering and unique idea, not everyone thinks quite so highly of this competition. Feminists worldwide think Miss Landmine is merely an exploitation of victims. Representatives from the competition answer that concern by assuring that they are attempting to create empowerment by "Replacing the passive term 'Victim' with the active term 'Survivor.'"

An official statement from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) states that a total of 5,751 casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war were recorded in 68 states and other areas in 2006. This included 1,367 people killed and 4,296 injured. 34% of these causalities were children. These numbers are atrocious, and reflect a deep-seated unwillingness by governments to give up their hold on these weapons. In 1976, Jimmy Carter said, "We can't have it both ways. We can't be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of arms." To learn more about the politics behind landmines, visit the ICBL website.

In college, I had the chance to work with Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work with the ICBL in banning landmines. She's a feisty woman of 58 who rarely uses "that prize she won" in describing herself or the work she has done. While her bold style may turn some people off (she famously called Bill Clinton a "weenie" while discussing his reluctance to sign off on the Ottawa treaty), her hatred for the injustice of innocent civilians being injured or killed by landmines is obvious.

"Emotion without action is irrelevant," says Jody. Policy needs to be changed and aid needs to be given. So what can you do to help? Sign the People's Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs here. It is a legally binding international treaty that forbids the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. The Convention will be signed in Oslo on December 3 of this year. Support Adopt-a-Minefield with a donation, by starting a campaign at your school, or by hosting a dinner party.

Nowhere on the Miss Landmine website, nor anywhere in related press articles could I find a summary of what prizes the winning contestant walked away with. There's no $10,000 scholarship, shopping spree, or free room and board in Trump Towers for a year, as American beauty pageant winners receive. It seems to me that the big prize that comes with the crown is the fierce sense of pride in being a disabled and empowered woman.

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