World's first albino beauty contest held in Kenya to fight prejudice

Albino campaign group says contest is to help fight the persecution they face in East Africa

Caroline Mortimer
Tuesday 01 November 2016 12:42 GMT
Kenyans take part in world's first albino beauty pageant

Kenya has hosted the world’s first albino beauty pageant to help combat the persecution they face in East Africa.

The contest called Beauty Beyond Skin was held in Nairobi and saw 10 women and 10 men with albinism – meaning they lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes – modelling in front of a crowd of around 1,000 people including Deputy President William Ruto.

The contestants used the occasion to petition the government to give them greater protections from the prejudice they face.

A contestant walks down the catwalk in her own creation at a pageant hosted by the Albinism Society of Kenya in Nairobi

Participants dressed up as army officers, waiters and police officers to show they were able to take part in every aspect of society.

In countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi albino people face persecution and ostracisation from communities who fear them.

Contestants prepare backstage during a pageant hosted by the Albinism Society of Kenya in Nairobi

Albinism is regarded as a curse in Kenya with all the contestants taking part saying they have been called "zeru" – meaning ghost in Swahili – or "pesa", meaning money in reference to the value placed on their body parts.

Criminal gangs target them in order to sell their body parts to witchdoctors due to superstitions that their body parts bring wealth, happiness and good luck.

One myth in particular is that their bones contain gold which can be extracted through drilling.

Albino body parts traded for up to 75,000USD in Tanzania: Unicef

Senior police officers in Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam have estimated that a complete set of albino body parts – including all four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose – can fetch up to $75,000 (£61,000) on the open market, according a report by the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Women are at an increased risk of sexual violence due to another belief that sex with an albino person can cure HIV/Aids.

According to an Amnesty International report earlier this year at least 69 crimes associated with albino people were recorded in Malawi alone in 2014.

In 2015, 35 albino people were evacuated from towns near the Kenya-Tanzania border after a spike in ritual killings which was allegedly linked to local politicians hoping to win election.

Issac Mwaura, Kenya’s first ever albino MP, said: “A time is coming when we will have people with albinism serving in the army and police force. We already have some in the National Youth Service, and this is a milestone in achieving inclusion despite the difference in skin colour.

“We have come to say that people with disability are beautiful people. We can have the names ‘beautiful’, ‘handsome’ and ‘albinism’ in one society.”

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