Nairobi — “Beauty Beyond the Skin” is the first albino beauty pageant celebrated in Kenya. It intends to change stigmas surrounding albinism and give people with the condition an opportunity to be socially accepted.

Albinos born in Africa are segregated because of their skin color and even haunted due to the demand of their limbs, which are believed to have magical powers. The competition included ten women and ten men that pursued the Miss and Mr. Albinism Kenya title. The beauty pageant was celebrated in October and drew a crowd of about one thousand spectators.

First albino beauty pageant in Kenya
Isaac Mwaura organized the pageant. He is Kenya’s first albino parliamentarian and the founder of the Albinism Society in Kenya. Image credit: Georgina Goodwin/CNN.

Deputy President William Ruto was in charge of organizing the event to celebrate people with the condition and support them in their struggle of social rejection and persecution.

Albinos are not considered attractive by the Kenyan society. Isaac Mwaura shared some of his experiences as a person with albinism, saying that even when he was dating, girls found it difficult to say he was attractive.

Mwaura has a strong personality and those events did not make him stop thinking that he is handsome. However, most people stigmatized by their lack of pigment are not so strong and their self-esteem is affected.

Mwaura stated that albino girls are not getting married. He said that even when they are beautiful, people do not want to be seen with them. The situation gave the parliamentarian the idea to organize the beauty pageant “as an opportunity to confront stigma and discriminatio.”

In the contest, participants were dressed as waiters, police officers, army officers, rugby players, skaters and other occupations to send a message: Albinos belong to every part of society.

“For so long albinos have been treated as half-humans because they were different. In turn, this has affected our self-esteem and the ability to utilize and explore our skills and talents. We come from a mentality that we cannot achieve what ‘normal’ people can because we are different. Yet time has proven that we can excel in spheres unimagined, like the aviation fields,” said Miss Albinism Kenya Loyce Lihanda.

Albinism: A dangerous genetic condition in Africa

People with albinism lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. It is a congenital disorder and affects up to one out of 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries of the continent, it is believed that albinos’ body parts bring wealth and luck.

Those who are born albino are also persecuted because their body parts are used in charms and magical potions. Witch doctors are willing to pay around $75,000 for a full set of albino limbs to practice black magic, according to the Red Cross.

First albino beauty pageant in Kenya
Mwaura explained that albinism is seen as a curse in Kenya. All contestants have been called “zeru,” which means “ghost,” and “pesa” a word that means money in Swahili, reminding them how valuable their body parts are. Image credit: Briana Duggan.

Attacks on albinos in Africa keep rising due to a growing demand related to political elections. Candidates and their hopes to become president or achieve other political positions seek fortune and are willing to sacrifice a person with albinism to make their dreams come true, said the U.N.’s first human rights expert on albinism. 

More than 35 albinos had to be evacuated from towns located near the Kenya-Tanzania border in 2015 because of elections and the demand for their body parts.

To add insult to injury, some communities think that having intercourse with an albino can cure H.I.V. Thus, people with albinism are often victims of sexual molestation, rape and sodomy.

“Beauty beyond skin” gave contestants a chance to ask their government to improve their opportunities and life conditions in the country. Deputy President Ruto assured the group that his government is working to protect them and guarantee them their rights as citizens of Kenya.

Ruto stated that the government has invested in several albino benefits. There is an allocation for sunscreen, special sunglasses, and tax breaks. There are other policies for albinos that include free education, and preferential employment in the government, reported the Daily Maverick.

Alex Munyere, Chairperson of the Albinism Society of Kenya, emphasized the fact that more efforts are needed to change the culture in Kenya and Africa regarding the myths that persecute albinos.

Albinos are rejected in Kenya since they are born

Lucianah Nyawira, 19, was the youngest girl in the albino pageant and she told Reuters that when she was born, her father kicked her and her mother out of their home because he thought his wife had had an affair with a foreigner.

Nyawira currently studies international relations in Nairobi and has been modeling for the past two years, although she is more accepted abroad that in her country. Lucianah is from a rural county called Kirinyaga and she recently landed a six-month contract in Paris. But at home, judges told her and that they are only interested in dark-skinned models.

First albino beauty pageant in Kenya
Participants at the “Beauty Beyond the Skin” contest. Image credit: Georgina Goodwin/CNN.

The young girl participated in Kenya’s first albino pageant because she wanted to become Miss Albinism Kenya and win a voice to talk to her governor and ask him what is he doing for people with her condition. Sadly, Nyawira did not win.

Source: The Herald