By Nellie Umutesi-Vigneron

Dear Organizers,

As any other social media addict, I was privy to the infamous video that came out of last year’s Miss Rwanda pageant. I am going to spare you the details of the video as I am sure you are well aware of its content. Like many, I laughed so hard until my belly was aching, but then realized that the humiliation is not on her, but on you: the organizers! After the video made it worldwide appearance, I was sure that this would be the last time such foolishness (sorry I meant pageant) would be organized.

It is with shock that I learned that a 2015 Miss Rwanda pageant took place. So I decided to dig further into it and learned a few interesting facts: The first Miss Rwanda pageant dates back to 2009, the pageant is under the umbrella of The Ministry of Youth and Culture in an attempt to ‘produce a girl who is beautiful, intelligent and cultural’. Finally, in order to participate in the pageant, the young ladies have to be between the ages of 18 to 24 years old, 1.70 meters tall, weight between 45 – 65 kilos, fluent in Kinyarwanda and either English or French.

There are so many wrongs about this pageant that it would take several open letters for me to go through it all, but I thought I’d just point out a few.

First, let’s discuss the criteria to enter the pageant. Are we saying that my 30 something year old, non- fluent in Kinyarwanda, with various weight fluctuations depending on the day and time of the month and no taller than 1.62 meters is not a good representation of Rwandan beauty? Newsflash: beauty cannot be measured, canned, produced, restricted or rehearsed. Why do you feel that beauty has to be a certain height, weight or age?

Secondly, I have also heard argument that selecting a Miss Rwanda is not a new concept for Rwanda as we used to have to search for the most beautiful woman who would become the Queen of Rwanda in ancient times. Really? Was she also made to parade herself in front of a stage, wear different outfits (I don’t think the two piece bathing suit had been invented then) and answer questions in a language she did not understand nor speak, or was the selection of a Queen done in a more private and respectful way? Please educate me!

Finally, you claim that this is about empowering women. Here is an idea if you really want to empower women: tell them that they do not have to compete for beauty, that they are beautiful in their own rights, teach them that they can do anything, give them the tools and mentorship needed to succeed, expose them to our rich heritage and not a tradition that started in the West. Stop putting on programming and events that promote this absurd standard of beauty. Don’t you think that will be more empowering?

This open letter is in no way an attack against the newly crowned 2015 Miss Rwanda, Doriane Kundwa. You are indeed beautiful and smart, but not because of the crown you won, but because you were created that way and no pageant or contest needed to affirm what you already knew! Wishing you the BEST of luck!