Over 2,000 people have signed a petition calling upon Uganda to scrap its 'Miss Curvy' beauty pageant as a way to promote tourism in the East African nation.
Tourism minister Godfrey Kiwanda sparked outrage on Wednesday when he spoke at an event in Kampala to launch the “Miss Curvy Uganda” pageant.
“We have naturally-endowed, nice-looking women that are amazing to look at,” he said. “Why don’t we use these people as a strategy to promote our tourism industry?”
Women’s rights activists, politicians and ordinary Ugandans said the contest was “state-sponsored objectification of women” and was treating women as though they were wildlife.
Some are calling on Kiwanda to resign.
“In Uganda, the ministry of tourism has added ‘curvy women’ on the list of ‘tourism attractions’. I personally feel attacked. This is degrading women,” said Primrose Murungi, an entrepreneur and activist who started the online petition.
“In a country where women are grabbed by men while walking on the streets and now they have legalised it by making them tourist attractions is not fair. They are objectifying us and reducing women to nothing.”
Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit annually to experience its diverse wildlife reserves, home to half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas.
Critics said vulnerable women and girls were already being trafficked from Uganda overseas for sex and the move by the ministry of tourism would encourage the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls at home.
Some Ugandans on social media argued the beauty contest would help to challenge the Western stereotype that only slim women are beautiful, saying the pageant celebrated the diversity of all body shapes, including those of African women.
But for many, addressing beauty shaming wasn't the point.
“It’s important to delink women’s body image and expression, curvy or otherwise, from any tourism talk or venture,” tweeted Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire.
“Curvy women have been fighting back against the European beauty standards of beauty pageants for so long. The point here is Uganda is not a human zoo!”