Zimbabwe, on Friday night, crowned its first ever “Miss Albino’’ in a beauty pageant that aims to tackle the stigma faced by people with the rare disorder.
The confident 22-year-old, Sithembiso Mutukura, outmaneuvered 12 other contestants in Zimbabwe’s first Miss Albinism beauty contest aimed at reducing stigma and increasing awareness about the condition. The social work student at the University of Zimbabwe received a cash prize of 85 dollars – far less than was originally planned, according to the event organiser, Brenda Mudzimu, who is paying the sum out of her own pocket.
Mutukura, who said she entered the pageant to raise awareness told DW after winning the crown “The people with disabilities are always looked down upon even in schools. I have gone through a lot but I want people living with albinism to be brave and persevere in life.” she said.
“We must continue to advocate for our rights and I hope my win will empower the girl child. People with disabilities must not look down upon themselves.”
Thirteen women took part in the “Miss Albino’’ pageant, which in its inaugural year, attracted just one sponsor.
People who suffer from albinism have lighter skin and hair due to an absence of pigment—a genetic disorder inherited from parents who both carry a faulty gene that prevents the skin from making melanin properly and thereby resulting in abnormal pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes. The condition is also associated with vision problems and makes people who are affected, more susceptible to skin cancer.
Albinos face discrimination and violence in many African countries, where superstition says that their body parts possess magical powers which leads to these individuals being hunted down in some African countries by witch doctors for their body parts, which are used in potions to bring good luck or riches. Others are kidnapped and sold by relatives out to make money. These misconceptions, coupled with the lack of education, are some of the key reasons that albinism is so heavily persecuted.
“The pageant aims to instill confidence in girls living with albinism in Zimbabwe as well as reduce the stigma,” Mudzimu said, also criticising Zimbabwe’s government and the private sector for not supporting the initiative.
Friday’s “Beauty Beyond the Skin” pageant was held in a nightclub in the bustling capital, Harare, making Zimbabwe the second African country after Kenya to host such an event. Also in Nigeria, documentary photographer, Damilola Onafuwa, also exhibited his photo-series, Angels Among Men, in February, to create conversation and awareness about the challenges people with Albinism face.
During the event in Harare on Friday night, the contestants had to respond to questions on stage and model a range of gowns and traditional African robes. Mutukura was awarded a food hamper and US$85 (almost €70) in prize money after being named winner.
Pageant organiser, Brenda Mudzimu, was happy to finally host the event as it was postponed last year due to a lack of funds had made it difficult to get the initiative off the ground. Mudzimu says she hopes to one day make the event international.
“This will be an annual event which will later be advanced to Miss Albinism Africa and Miss Albinism World because we want to reach all corners of the world,” she said.
The southern African country has about 39,000 people living with albinism
Tapuwa Muchemwa, a government representative who was the guest of honour, said Zimbabwean authorities were committed to upholding the rights of albinos.
“We as government strongly advocate that people with albinism deserve their right to life and security and to be protected as well as the right not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment,” Muchemwa said.
The rate of albinism in Africa is much higher than in other parts of the world. Albinism groups say more ninety-eight percent of albinos die by the age of forty for reasons which could easily be prevented..
There have been over 600 attacks on people with albinism documented in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade according to the United Nations, with Tanzania having one of the highest, if not the highest rate of Albino Persecution. Many more cases are thought to go unreported.
“My experience living with albinism was not easy. I learnt that in life living with albinism you have to persevere and survive in life.” Mutukura continued.
People living with albinism are talented, beautiful and intelligent just like any other normal human being.