Cambodia: Miss Landmine Pageant Raises Questions

“Everybody has the right to be beautiful!” so starts the manifesto of the Miss Landmine pageant, started by Morten Traavik of Norway. According to the pageant site, the competition is intended to empower landmine victims and challenge traditional notions of beauty. The winner receives a high-tech prosthetic limb. Traavik has already organized a Miss Landmine pageant in Angola and was in the process of launching the event in Cambodia this month when the Cambodian government pulled its support and canceled the pageant.

The Mirror reports that other organizations, including the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization, declined to support the pageant after the Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation expressed its displeasure with the pageant, citing the event could lead to misunderstandings about disabled people.

Not surprisingly, there have been varied reactions to the landmine pageant.

Jinja says:

I have mixed feelings about the cattle call of beauty pageants, but do agree with the general idea behind this one: that the participants have a right to feel proud about themselves and their appearance, regardless of circumstance. Without condoning [the pageant], I think the cancellation shows how Khmer society is often leaning towards modern and foreign concepts, only to snap back to what [it] feels [is] more traditional and ’safe’.

CAAI News Media posts a reader's reaction, originally printed in a letter to the Phnom Penh Post editor. The reader questions whether or not the beauty pageant format is empowering:

As for beauty, whose concept of beauty is being promoted? I visited the Web site and found the women from different villages in halter tops and short dresses, which may or may not be the clothing that they would usually wear, but it seemed out of place. Are the organisers, while completely well-meaning, pushing a Western interpretation of “empowerment” where beauty and liberation is equated with being sexy and showing skin? I would have rather liked to see the women wearing something they chose, Western or traditional Khmer, modern or conservative, which made them feel their most beautiful.

At Details are Sketchy, there is news that Traavik has left Cambodia, but that he plans on moving forward with the pageant, via an online vote. Below is a photo of pageant contestant Miss Siem Reap from the pageant website.

miss-siem reap


  • When I first read about this Miss LandMine contest, my gut reaction was ‘what on earth is this guy trying to do?,’ taking advantage of these women to get attention for his organization, business… ?? OUTRAGEOUS !!! Then I went on reading and carefully looking at the photos on his website… I have a second thought: who am I to deny these women the right to feel beautiful and win a limb that would make their life much easier. No mixed feelings, it’s absolutely up to these women to have the final say about this contest.

    BTW, I doubt it very much the 4-6 estimated million land mines were laid by women, it’s a “boy game” designed to rip limbs apart, not to kill. Women play with dolls, makeup stuff, life, babies…boys and men play with guns, weapons… Let these women have their say, it’s their body, their dignity !

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  • Excellent article.

    To dangrek ; women can often be involved as war combatants, especially for guerrilla and insurgency / occupation conflicts. The landmines of course are one of many brutal weapons like aeriel bombs, that can easily kill & wound non-combatants.

    Arms technology, remains ahead of social evolution…

    • Dangrek

      Hey Roy:

      I’m afraid you’re right.

      But take for example Europe and the US, I do not see that many women getting involved in warfare. They hate violence, they hate crimes…Sure you could prove me wrong with a survey or study, I haven’t read any, not yet. On the other hand you are absolutely right about those ‘developing’ countries where women have to fight to survive.

      Arms technology remains ahead of social progress in a world predominantly ruled by men, women were allowed to vote only in the 20s in the US (correct me if I am wrong ), much later in some parts of Europe, just forget it about Asia or Cambodia, they cook, look after kids or do ‘massage’ for tourists in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, their virginity even ‘cures’ Aids, the younger the better, it’s called child prostitution, sex tourism !!! PERIOD.

      How many female President does the world have so far? Less than ten, even in the West, Hilary almost did it but she misspoke, only Angela Merkel made it in Germany, two so far in the West with Margaret Thatcher (again correct me if I’m wrong).

      BTW, I am a man, a Khmer. Feel free to comment on my last thread about being khmer I’ve just posted to my blog:

      Nice talking to you.

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