Friday, August 14, 2009

Miss Nepal beauty pageant to be held

Modern beauty queen butts up against adoration of traditional Living Goddess (AP).

KATHMANDU, (Xinhua) -- Nepal's most popular beauty pageant is getting ready to choose the first Miss Nepal since the Himalayan "kingdom" became a federal democratic republic last year. The Hidden Treasure, the event management company in Lalitpur, south of Nepal's capital Kathmandu, on Wednesday announced that it has begun accepting applications from Nepalese women who are over 18, are at least 5 feet 4 inches (or 162.5 cm) tall, and have completed high school to take part in the contest that will be held in September or October. More>>

(WQ Editorial) While Nepal is predominantly Buddhist, with overwhelming influence from nearby Tibet, it has on paper been considered the world's only remaining Hindu Kingdom. A periodic, biased census ensures that, by the wishes of its dominant trading partner to the south.

It is a land-locked nation that has little choice but to acquiesce to the wishes of its overbearing neighbors. China, for example, sees to it that Tibetan activism is squashed and that revered monks are arrested (even as a Miss Tibet contest is held; see right). While Buddhism and free-market capitalism might be fine with beauty contests, Maoist communists are not.

The party wishes to institute traditional values and gender equality. Their methods may be severe, but the majority of people in Nepal would probably agree. Beauty pageants are a two-edged sword. They may give contestants a sense of empowerment while subverting gender equality. Such contests are not a feminist means of progress. And Nepal realizes this to some extent:

In Birgunj, some 90 km south of Kathmandu, the contest started getting popular in 1994 and spawned dozens of other beauty contests like Miss Teen, Miss Mongol, and even pageants for men. However, out of respect for Nepal's conservative society, Miss Nepal does not have a swim suit round.

The pageant ran into controversy in 2008 when the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M), who had ended its 10-year armed revolt and signed a peace agreement with the government in 2006, returned to mainstream politics and its Women's Wing opposed the pageant.

"Miss Nepal widens the division between the haves and have-nots," said Amrita Thapa Magar, chief of the party's Women's Wing, last year, explaining why they were opposing the contest. "Only affluent women who can afford the cosmetics and wardrobes needed can take part." Magar also said the contest degraded women to "commodities" and "social inferiors" at a time when her party was trying to build a "new Nepal."

Last year, when the Maoist party headed the government, the strong opposition to Miss Nepal caused the pageant to be canceled. Now, with a new [pro-Chinese] government at the helm, the organizers are hoping that Miss Nepal can be held again.