Laurie and Debbie say:
This is the second year of the controversial competition, heartchild of Norwegian artist Morten Traavik. Ten women who have lost a leg in land-mine explosions vie for the right to come to Norway and receive a prosthesis. (No, we didn’t make this up, and it’s not a hoax.) The other nine women, well … nice try, dear.
We feel like we could almost have written the manifesto ourselves.
* Female pride and empowerment.
* Disabled pride and empowerment.
* Global and local landmine awareness and information.
* Challenge inferiority and/or guilt complexes that hinder creativity–historical, cultural, social, personal, African, European.
* Question established concepts of physical perfection.
* Challenge old and ingrown concepts of cultural cooperation.
* Celebrate true beauty.
* Replace the passive term ‘Victim’ with the active term ‘Survivor’
And have a good time for all involved while doing so!
All of this is right up Body Impolitic’s alley: despite our reservations about beauty contests and everything they imply, we love it when they are made available to the people generally excluded. (Scroll through that post to see material about the “Untamed Beauty” contest in Iceland.)
We believe all that in this case as well: we support the women in the contest, and Morten Traavik, who is clearly using his national artistic success as a platform for change.
There’s just one catch–but it’s a huge one. Disability caused by land mines is disability caused by people’s actions. These beautiful women with their missing legs lost them not because of genetic, or bacterial, or viral causes, not in accidents (except for the broadest possible definition of accidents) but because military personnel saw fit to seed an area with land mines and leave them there when the conflict was over. In other words, the people who use land mines have a great deal more power than the people who fight the damage done by land mines.
The Miss Landmine site has good historical information about land mines in Angola:
A struggle for independence from Angola’s Portuguese colonial rulers starting in 1961 marked the first phase of what developed into nearly four decades of almost continuous warfare between the government of the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular Liberao de Angola, MPLA) and Western-backed rebel army UNITA, in which both sides made heavy use of landmines.
Landmines were used to defend strategically valuable towns and key infrastructure, such as bridges, airports, railways, dams and power lines. Mines were also laid on roads and paths to impede movement of opposing forces, and to depopulate some areas by denying access to water sources and plantations. The presence of mines on roads has proved a major obstacle to the movement of people and resources, and therefore to post-war social stabilization and economic recovery.
Angola signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 4 December 1997 during a temporary cessation of hostilities, but as civil war broke out again in 1998 both sides resumed the laying of mines.
This continued until the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002 paved the way for a peace agreement, which was signed in April of that year and came into effect on 1 January 2003. The initial Article 7 report submitted in September 2004 identified 4,200 areas that contained or were suspected to contain antipersonnel mines.
The ongoing Landmine Impact Survey has identified 1,402 impacted communities with a population of more than 1.6 million people in 10 of 18 provinces.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem like sorting out 10 pretty women and giving one (yes, one, only one) of them a prosthesis (for being beautiful) is any kind of adequate response to the situation. Many technologies exist for detecting and removing land mines without injury. Strangely enough, these technologies tend to be used when industry, government, or new military have an interest in an area, much more than when everyday citizens are simply trying to go about their daily business.
The human misery caused every day by the people who shamelessly plant these inexcusable devices by definition eclipses a project that helps one woman, or ten, or one hundred. The project is still worth doing.
Thanks to Sarah Dopp for the pointer.