Watching the video of the “Questions and Answers” portion of the recent Miss Sierra Leone 2018 beauty pageant was so painful, I had to watch it in small doses. Because of the love in my heart for each and every one of these young ladies, I would have loved each and every one of them to demonstrate her true intelligence underneath all that beauty.
But that is not what happened, they were trapped by the extremely Euro-centric questions!
For this, I say, shame on the organizers for putting our unsuspecting girls on the world stage for ridicule!
In my view, most of the questions were so foreign that most of the girls staggered before even attempting to answer them.
“If you could change two things about yourself, what two things would you change, and why?” A judge asked one contestant this unfair question.
How many girls, growing up in Sierra Leone today, are being socially conditioned to believe that they can change anything for themselves or society?
In my view, it is a very unrealistic question in the Sierra Leonean context, given that girls are still being conditioned to focus on their looks and catching the attention of men, who are supposedly their tickets out of poverty and hardship.
The examples and role models that are more common to girls in Sierra Leone are women who have gained wealth, power or prestige because of their connection to men; especially politicians. This is one of the reasons that female ministers or other appointees are often labeled as Presidents’ mistresses, because in the Sierra Leonean mentality, women are not expected to be in leadership positions by merit; only through the favors of male leaders.
It is a fact that girls in Sierra Leone are heavily disadvantaged in schools for various reasons: Girls are more likely to be frequently late to school due to domestic chores, thereby, missing lessons. Girls are more likely to be out of school periodically due to financial issues as family’s funds are used to pay for boys. Girls are most likely not to study at home, again, due to domestic chores and responsibilities, etc.
For many of the young girls, English is only learned and spoken at school. And since the educational standard has been generally deplorable in Sierra Leone for the last decade or so, English is not so native to our young people. This is why the children of politicians, and other wealthy and powerful families, are better educated because they all attend schools in Europe and the United States.
Given all these facts, I would like to ask the pageant organizers:
- Why were the pageant questions given in English?
- Why were questions not in the lingua franca, Krio?
- Why were the questions not focused more on the girls’ social, economic and cultural experiences within the context of their country?
- Was the level of education of the girls taken into consideration while formulating the questions?
- Are all the girls the same age and grade level?
“Well behaved women rarely make history, what does this mean to you?”Another weird question in the Sierra Leonean context.
How many adolescent girls in Sierra Leone have heard this American feminist slogan? This flies totally in the face of reality for girls and women in Sierra Leone, who are conditioned to be so well behaved that, even reporting assaults and rapes they suffer are seen as bad behavior. Why are the labels, “Dryai, Untraining, Sharpmot” frequently used to describe women, who are publicly vocal, and never men? .
For our girls to be expected to relate to and answer such a question, they must first have learned what it means, not in the context of another society, but in their own social context. Who are the badly behaved women who have made history on their own merit in Sierra Leone? If any, are we sharing the stories of such women with our girls? Women are expected to stay on the straight and narrow, as dictated by society, with many mechanisms by which girls are restricted from speaking their truth, for fear of being labeled; a problem from which boys do not suffer.
“If you were president for one day, what would you do?” A judge asked another contestant.
We have a political environment in Sierra Leone that is so toxic for women, that this sort of question would require a very wild imagination for a girl to think of herself as president for even one day.
In the debate for presidential candidates in the past 2018 elections, even though there were at least two women on the ballot, only the men were put on the platform to participate in the debate. Women are systematically excluded from all visible platforms in Sierra Leone society; except for the power and prestige accorded to them by the men.
A society that expects girls to imagine themselves as president or in leadership, would allow them to see women role models, by their own merits, in action in various ways and at various levels.
It is obvious that the Miss Sierra Leone pageant organizers have their eyes set outside of Sierra Leone, with the aim of sending contestants to participate in the Miss Universe pageant; which would bring organizers more prestige and probably more profit. But it is wrong to have this focus, as it prevents them from being mindful of the realistic situations of girls in Sierra Leone.
If we must have beauty pageants in Sierra Leone, we must be realistic and mindful of our social context; make it less Euro-centric, with the realities in which girls are growing up as guide. Avoid forcing western ideals on our girls. They are very beautiful both on the outside and inside; put them on a platform where they would be empowered with the language(s) they understand, to clearly demonstrate their intelligence, talents and eloquence, in addition to showcasing their undeniable external beauty.
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