But Miss Landmine planner says shutdown order a 'blow' to disabled.
THE organiser of the Miss Landmine beauty pageant has condemned a government order shutting down the event, describing the decision as a "blow" for disabled rights in the Kingdom.
In meetings Monday at the Ministry of Social Affairs, officials rejected a last-ditch bid by organisers to reach a compromise over the staging of the controversial event, which features female victims of land mines.
"I believe it is a blow, not only for disabled rights, but also for the self-esteem of the women taking part and the self-esteem of disabled people across the country," organiser Morten Traavik said after the meeting.
"The message that they're getting out of [the ban] is that they should not present themselves as anything but the traditional notion of how a disabled person should appear: as objects of our condescending pity."
In a letter dated Friday, the Ministry of Social Affairs ordered that organisers of the pageant cease their activities immediately in order to protect the "honour and dignity" of the women taking part.
Traavik, an artist from Norway, said that for the well-being of the Cambodians taking part in the event, he would comply with the ministry's request, but he said the event's Web site will continue to operate despite the prospect of legal action by the government.
The decision to ban the event was a surprise, Traavik said, given that the project had previously received the support of anti-land mine groups and the ministries of both Social Affairs and Women's Affairs.
Twenty land-mine victims from across the country were set to take part in the Miss Landmine pageant, which was scheduled to open with a photo exhibition of the contestants on Friday.
This was to be followed by an Internet voting campaign to select the winner, who would have been awarded prize money and a prosthetic limb at a crowning ceremony in December.
The ministry's decision to ban the Miss Landmine event has reopened a debate about the merits of the contest, first held in Angola in 2007.
Song Kosal, a contestant representing Phnom Penh, said those involved in the pageant had opted to participate voluntarily, and that it was a great disappointment to hear that the event had been banned.
"Even though the contest is titled Miss Landmine, it offers us the chance to have the same rights as other people and also informs the whole world about the importance of eliminating land mines," she said.
But others said the ban would not affect the progress of disability rights in Cambodia. Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation, which has supported Miss Landmine, said the government's main concerns were related to culture, not disability issues.
"This is to do with culture," he said, adding that the passage of a Disabilities Law last month demonstrated the government's dedication to the issue.
[THE EVENT] OFFERS US THE CHANCE TO HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS OTHER PEOPLE.
"We are working closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs in order to address the position of people with disabilities. I don't think [the ban] will effect [that]."
Kek Pung, president of the rights group Licadho, said that the government was right to ban the event, saying the organisers should have found a different way of conveying their message.
"I think that this is an issue of strategy and message. You can find a lot more methods of raising issues of land mines," she said.
Event organisers had the right intentions, she added, but she argued that a beauty pageant might wind up making the participants feel "sorry" for themselves.
Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, agreed, saying that the contest was degrading for the participants, and that organising such an event was "unfair" to Cambodian culture.
He added that the efforts of organising that campaign should be channeled into providing training and other support to the disabled.
The government has long been hostile to beauty pageants. In September 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a ban on such events, saying the money could better be used to "help farmers" and to "solve more important issues".
Traavik said that despite the government's ban, the international coverage of the event would ensure that it continues to challenge ingrained attitudes about the disabled.
"Even if the Cambodian authorities are opposed to showing the pictures in Cambodia, they will still raise a lot of important issues and discussions," he said. "The idea is already out there."
An official at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who declined to be named, said that the ministry stood by the announcement issued Sunday.