“Redefining Beauty: Crowning Miss Landmine”

February 25, 2009

In 2008, Augusta Ulrica was crowned the world’s first Miss Landmine. The pageant took place in Luanda, Angola, a country struggling after 27-years of civil war. Landmines were commonly used in battles after the country’s independence from Portugal. It is estimated that between 1 and 6 million mines remain in the ground, but numbers as high as 15 million have been suggested. With 800.000 mine survivors and 1.6 million people being affected by landmine casualties, it remains a severe problem in Angola. When the Norwegian artist Morten Traavik visited the country in 2003, less than a year after the end of the civil war, he saw how the ‘physical reconstruction and social integration’ was hampered by the leftover landmines. This experience initiated the Miss Landmine pageant, which is an art project with the objective of increasing awareness of the Angolan situation. The political and humanitarian impact of the contest will hopefully foster ‘victim assistance’ for landmine survivors.

Victim assistance is one of the unfulfilled promises made by the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. According to the treaty, ‘each State Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims…’. At the same time, it holds that the VA25 states, including Angola, have ‘the greatest responsibility to act, but also the greatest needs and expectation for assistance’. However, the Angolan government does little to provide assistance to victims  as most of its funding is used on demining. Furthermore, victim assistance in Angola lacks coordination and information about the needs and the number of mine survivors, not to mention the delay in formulating policies and operational plans.

The Miss Landmine pageant helps mine survivors live as survivors instead of victims through empowerment and a focus on disability pride. It encourages survivors to take part in society and gives them a chance to dream of a better future. In a human security context, ‘freedom from want’ advocates would argue that more focus should be on the mine survivors as they are part of the reconstruction of a country and wish to be involved in this process. On the other hand,  ‘freedom from fear’ advocates would hold that the attention should remain on eliminating the direct threats by focusing on the demining process. Would efficiency in landmine relief  improve by involving mine survivors?

Pix and Marianne


9 Responses to ““Redefining Beauty: Crowning Miss Landmine””

  1. lmcinhk Says:

    Pix & Marianne —

    I hadn’t heard about this contest. What a wonderful example of creative ingenuity!

    In this case, I’m not sure there is much of a distinction between what “freedom from fear” vs “freedom from want” advocates would choose. I think it is more of a case of having to choose where best to spend in a situation where funding is extremely limited. Under these circumstances, I think even ‘freedom from want” advocates would agree that priority should be given to mine removal over rehabilitation. (I know most demining programs do employ local people, so I agree that giving mine survivors employment priority makes sense.)

    In a perfect world with infinite resources, we wouldn’t have to choose between two such worthy programs — mine clearance and victim rehabilitation. Sadly, these types of policy choices are often necessary.

    That said, perhaps I am not being fair to “freedom from want” advocates. Perhaps there is a case for putting rehabilitation before mine clearance (or at least giving rehabilitation programs a larger share of the limited funds). If you had a small pool of money to deal with land-mine clearance and rehabilitation for an entire country like Angola, how would you spend it?

    — LMC

  2. Angie Chan Nga Ki Says:

    Dear Pix and Marianne,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful contest with us! I think the contest was great, immersed in the local culture, and without the sexism beauty pageants are oft-criticized about. As I watched the video about Miss Landmine Pageant, I found the women really beautiful and confident – they are truly survivors with much to offer, not just passive victims of landmines. The beauty pageant was a creative means of advocacy, but the organizer commented that it was difficult to get the support of international NGOs. Perhaps the difficulty lies in the lack of interest in victim assistance.

    The reason could be most NGOs view landmine clearance as more important, and I agree with Lucy that it seems inevitable most funds would go to this more pressing need. However, the landmine survivors’ livelihood cannot be neglected – these are real human security needs under the ‘freedom from want’ school. While I’m not sure the ‘efficiency’ of landmine relief would improve by involving mine survivors, I believe it is surely the case that the ‘comprehensiveness’ of landmine relief would improve.

    One important and not too costly policy is to eliminate the discrimination against landmine survivors. Only so can they integrate back into society and help build the country. Perhaps as the landmine survivors help to increase the speed of re-building the country, more funds can be generated towards mine clearance. So, if I were to decide, I would direct a portion of funds to help landmine survivors. Do you think this policy would work? Or are there other cost-effective ways to fulfill victim assistance?


  3. adriangtz Says:

    Hi Pix and Marianne!!

    It’s amazing what people can do when they want to be heard. I think that this beauty contest is a claim for international community care for the landmine crisis. I think, or I feel it this way, that the contest and the photo shoots taken for it give you certain idea of nearness to the people in mine affected countries, let you overwhelmed by the fact that they’re humans too and they’re suffering from situations that can be unimaginable for us. Something ought to be done.

    About the victim assistance that you called as one unfulfilled promises made by the Mine Ban Treaty, I have to say that I don’t agree with you. Because as the ICBL page shows humanitarian aid and medical/rehabilitation assistance have been given to States in need. The problem, I think, is that this aid is given in improper ways and short term orientated. What can really help states as Angola and Burundi is long term development programs and institutional changes at their governmental apparatuses. To make people in these countries free from fear and needs, states and international NGOs must eliminate the uncertainty of their lives.

    Finaly as Lucy, I think that their main need is to be protected from AP Landmines. If humanitarian aid face first the need for medical improvements placing the disarming of landmines for later, then more people would get damaged and more medical care would be needed.

  4. mariannepetri Says:

    Dear all,

    Thank you for your comments.

    The following quote is from http://www.ICBL.org/theaty/va and a short evaluation of ‘victim assistance’ 10 years after the treaty.It supports some of our following comments:

    ‘In addition to overcoming physical trauma, mine survivors struggle to achieve social acceptance, gain meaningful employment and ensure their rights are respected. Mine survivors and other people with disabilities are among the most impoverished groups in every society. Funding for victim assistance remains insufficient and programmes inadequate in all but a handful of mine-affected countries.’

    Lucy, a good question we have asked ourselves as well. And at first like most people, the demining seemed more plausible. However, after more thought it seems that there are some benefits by focusing on rehabilitation which does not result in no mine clearance. First of all, the rehabilitation benefits society as a whole. The poorest group of citizens will be included into society and help rebuild the country, which can only be a absolute bonus for any HS advocate. Secondly, as you mention briefly some programmes to already employ mine survivors to clear mine fields. This would be an excellent way to combine the rehabilitation with mine clearence. Thirdly, the dedication the pageant participants show to landmine relief is striking. If that can be transferred into action, then the efficiency and attention given to the mine relief would increase.

    But they do need help to start such a programme. But where to get the money? It is inhumane to say that we can leave a couple of mines in the ground for a child to step on, in order to help the people already in need. However, as Adriangtz mentions it is the run haul solutions that will help rebuild society. In a country such as Angola a total landmine clearance seems impossible, so if the rehabilitation cannot start before all landmines are removed from the ground, what kind of future can millions of people look forward to? It seems plausible to keep this two issues less seperated to make the process more efficient.

    As for Angie’s suggestion of focusing discrimination as it is less costly. Nothing implies that it is the case. And as the quote in the beginning states they are having severe problems with exceptance and non-discrimination. The only way to get rid of discrimination is through rehabilitation, so that the suvivors can find employment and comtribute to society. So it does not seems to be an easy fix. But we would love to hear more about how you think it can be achieved with small funding.

    Lastly, we would like to refer to the quote again and say that it is NOT us calling it an unfulfilled promiss, but the ICLB. However, there is some victim assistance provided by NGO’s, which mainly focuses on medical needs. And our intentions are NOT to say that this is not much needed and appriciated. But merely to argue that focus on ‘victim assistance’ would benefit society more than a pure focus on mine clearance.

    Thank you and cheers,
    Pix and Marianne

  5. petrolhead98 Says:

    Pix and Marianne,

    Thanks for a very interesting story about land mine survivors and the empowerment that this contest has given to them.

    It made me think about how people can still be empowered through the effects of land mines. For example, the BBC Photo Journal on De-Mining Cambodia has shown how women mine clearers have been empowered by becoming the breadwinner for the family, due to earning 10 times the national average.

    I would contend that the main focus should be on the demining process, I am very much in the “freedom from fear” camp in this case. Adding to the problems of victim treatment with more victims than can be avoided would be counter productive.

    However, there is nothing to be lost from exchanging ideas on how the existing resources on victim treatment can be reformed to improve the quality of service, if this is achievable. Broadly speaking, exchanging of ideas does not cost anything.

    The fact that most of Angola’s funding has been allocated towards demining reflects the treaty’s greater success on paper than in practice for less developed countries. Belarus has repeatedly appealed for aid in destroying their mines.

    I think that relief can be improved by involving survivors if this improves the quality and focus of victim relief. But any improvement would be limited by lack of funds.

    However, if it runs deeper than funding and is also a commitment issue, then lobbying is also necessary to ensure victim relief.


    Matthew Clayton

  6. adriangtz Says:

    Hey Pix and Mariann!

    As you say, I think that mine clearance programmes should be applied in coordination with victim assistance to find better solutions to the landmine crisis. I agree that the big problem here is the money to get those programmes started and to maintain them in the long run. I think that better ways to deliver aid must be developed too, since as ICBL states, “Funding for victim assistance remains insufficient and programmes inadequate in all but a handful of mine-affected countries.”

    I think that it is important to change government structures in the affected countries, because I think they might be incapable to help its people and they can be critical factors in the success of mine and victim assistance programmes.

    Adrián Gutiérrez

  7. Marianne Says:

    Dear all,

    Once again thank you for your comments. It is good to see that you are not completely dismissing ‘victim assistance’ as a way to improve landmine relief.

    Hopefully, programmes can be set up where mine suvivors work with demining or other projects that are beneficial for mine clearance. However, as you all mention it is a matter of prioritising which is never easy.

    The ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’ advocates might not take on that different approaches in the case due to the limited funding. However, the debate between the two approaches should continue in order to find out how funding can produce the best outcome.

    Also, the Miss Landmine pageant continues with a 2009 contest in Cambodia. So maybe ‘victim assistance’ will become more in focus, which will lead to more funding!

    Either way, thank you all for your participation in this debate.

    Pix and Marianne

  8. Kong Cheuk Yan Eric Says:

    Pix and Marianne,
    It is really impressive to me that you two have raised the questions about the allocation of resources between support on landmine survivors and demining projects. In my opinion, both of them are important for countries in post-civil war period. They are not mutually exclusive but should be mutually existing. As you have stated, countries like Angola have to provide its citizens with “freedom from wants” and “freedom from fear” which can be satisfied by humanitarian actions and demining projects respectively. Moreover, demining projects can be treated as primary and essential step of removing the risk of landmines. The humanitarian actions are sustainable actios that ensure the living standard and economic development of the country.
    In order to help the country recover from civil war, it is especially important to build up the confidence of citizens. This can be achieved by removing physical risks and helping survivors start a new life.
    Apart from basic humanitarian actions, I would say it is more important for government or foreign NGOs to pay more attention to provide psysiological support. For example, the government should think how to treat those landmine survivors as assets and become beneficial for long-term economic development. Education is also another important factor of success in the long term. Through nuturing new generation, the long-term economy of the country can be maintained. As a result, it is necessary for NGOs providing advices to local government to build schools and draft a sustainable educational policies.

  9. Angie Chan Nga Ki Says:

    Dear Pix and Marianne,

    Indeed, to fully and effective remove discrimination against landmine survivors, rehabilitation and integration into society is needed. However, what I was suggesting was at least some campaigns to raise awareness of the issue. I believe it would not be too expensive to do some awareness-raising campaigns, and it is at least a positive step in that direction. That is the least that can be done in light of the tight resources.


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