More than a number

Miss Peru Contestants protest violence against women by dropping statistics instead of giving body measurements

By on November 7, 2017

Photo courtesy of Alvaro Ugaz
Every year during the Miss Peru beauty pageant, contestants introduce themselves, the region they represent and provide body measurements in front of a panel of judges.

This year something different happened during that typically routine section of the contest. On Oct. 29, in lieu of providing the judges with their body measurements, Miss Peru contestants dropped statistics regarding sexual assault and femicide, the term that Latin American countries coined to characterize the widespread killings of women at the hands of men in the past decade.

The protest was pre-planned by the event organizers. During the question-and-answer stage of the competition, contestants were asked how they would put an end to feminicide.

Jessica Newton, the pageant’s head organizer and former beauty queen, justified the show’s focus on feminicide by suggesting that all who don’t do something to end the issue are accomplices to the crimes against the victims. Newton said that she kept the swimsuit portion of the competition in order to show that women deserve respect no matter what they are wearing.

“My name is Camila Canicoba and I represent the department of Lima,” the first contestant said. “My measurements are: 2,202 cases of feminicide reported in the last nine years in my country.”

Another 22 contestants followed suit.

“My name is Samantha Batallanos and I represent Lima and my figures are: a girl dies every 10 minutes as a result of sexual exploitation,” another contestant said.

Kelin Rivera of Arequipa, Peru approached the microphone and held back tears in exposing her region as being home to 6,573 reported cases of violence against women.

The pageant audience roared after each bombshell statistic rang through the monitors of the auditorium. Eventually, the entire world heard the contestants’ call for recognition.

#MisMedidasSon, which translates to #MyMeasurementsAre, went viral on Twitter. Users around the world got wind of the protests and offered their support for the cause by furthermore sharing articles and statistics about sexual violence.

The Prime Minister of Peru, Mercedes Aráoz, said that she was disappointed in how her country was being viewed on the interwebs after #PeruPaísDeVioladores (translated to #PeruCountryOfRapists) emerged on social media as well.

“Peru is more than that,” Aráoz said. She also revealed that last year she had been involved in a psychologically abusive relationship.

While many on social media were moved by the pageant contestants’ statistics, others weren’t as dazzled by the glamorous protest. Peruvian writer and activist Mary Lara Salvatierra expressed her discontent with the competition existing in the first place in a piece she wrote for the Tribuna Feminista. In “Miss Peru and the false idea of the free woman,” she discusses the reality that pageants around the world are primarily working with the beauty industry in seeking profits ahead of anything else and that the protest was merely a calculated ploy by the event organizers to generate free advertisement for the program in order to market cosmetic products, while also “washing the face” and modernizing a competition that she sees as objectifying.

“Miss Peru 2018 went viral worldwide generating a lot of free promotion for the organizers, for the owners of the channel that transmitted the event, and of course, for the beauty industry in the country that, according to the Chamber of Commerce of Lima, this year increased sales by eight percent and we assume, with this free advertising that number will increase until the end of the year,” Salvatierra wrote.

The Miss Peru protest came as another wave within the ocean of outcry exposing widespread sexual assault against women.

While feminicide in Latin America has attracted global attention, assaults against women have made headlines close to home.

In early October, The Weinstein Company’s executive board subsequently fired co-founder Harvey Weinstein after The New York Times published reports accusing the Hollywood mogul of rape and other sexual harassment. Since then, 78 alleged victims have spoken out against Weinstein, with some claiming that the prominent producer used his influence to coerce female actresses and models into sexual behavior.

As sexual assault and violence against women are beginning to take the forefront of the global conversation about gender equality, more protests and accusations surface every day in the media. Whether it is through a beauty pageant broadcasted live on national television or a New York Times investigative story that gives light to a man that used his status to sexualize women of his choosing, journalists and public figures are continually combating gender violence one step at a time by bringing attention to the centuries-old plague.

“We definitely had wanted a different Miss Peru,” Luciana Olivares, content and strategy manager for the Frecuencia Latina TV station, told NPR. “But it was only during the last weeks where it became obvious that we needed a cry against violence on women.”

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