Organisers of the beauty pageant claim it will raise public awareness of the challenges facing land mine victims, but doubts persist about the long-term effects on participants and society.
THE second annual Miss Landmine beauty pageant, a controversial event that debuted in Angola last year, will open in Cambodia next month, with organisers saying they hope the event will raise awareness about the continuing risk of land mines around the globe.
"I believe it is a good way of looking at things in a new and different way ... [to see] these women as strong, glamorous and beautiful," said Norwegian artist Morten Traavik, who organised the first Miss Landmine pageant.
"It will make a contribution to how the rest of society will look at them ... Society will feel that these women can do anything."
The contest, which has support from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre and the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation, has been designed to highlight the difficulties faced by female land mine victims.
The path to victory
A total of 21 contestants representing all provinces except Ratanakkiri, Koh Kong and Kratie are set to participate in the contest.
The contestants will launch a photo exhibition and a fashion magazine that uses land mine survivors as models at Meta House on August 7, and the public will be able to vote for the winner on the project's Web site (www.miss-landmine.org) beginning on August 1.
IT'S NOT RIGHT. IT IS AS IF [CONTESTANTS] ARE BEING MADE FUN OF.
The winner, who will be awarded a custom-made prosthetic leg, will be crowned by a special jury at a live stage event in Phnom Penh in early December.
If online voters and the jury choose different contestants, then both will be crowned winners.
Reactions to the pageant - as with last year's event in Angola - have been mixed.
Sem Sokha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said his ministry and the government had "no objection" to the Miss Landmine contest, adding that the ministry worked to provide "all kinds of services" to the disabled.
Chin Vuthy, project manager for Action on Disability and Development, a rights group for the disabled, said the contest would likely attract funds to help disabled people and also encourage disabled women to participate more directly in society.
But Lim Mony, a women's programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said she did not support the event because it would do nothing to help disabled women and would only make them upset.
"The word 'miss' means very beautiful," she said.
"They are disabled, but being taken to participate in a contest like that - it's not right. It is as if they are being made fun of," she said.
Song Kosal, 24, a Miss Landmine contestant from Phnom Penh who lost a leg after she stepped on a land mine as a 5-year-old, praised the event, saying that it would give disabled people, particularly women, an opportunity for recognition.
"This is an opportunity to let the world know not to discriminate against disabled people.... Even though we are disabled, we also have the right to be beautiful, to participate in society's activities, and to have equal rights with non-disabled people," she said.