Outcry over Uganda ‘curvy women’ tourism campaign

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Female Ugandan activists on Thursday slammed a government campaign to use “curvy women” to attract tourists to the east African nation.

Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda unveiled the campaign on Wednesday at a news conference attended by a bevy of curvaceous women.

Uganda is endowed with beautiful women. Their beauty is unique and diverse. That’s why we decided to use the unique beauty, the curves… to make this beauty a product to be marketed along with what we already have as a country ranging from nature, the language and food, to make it a tourist attraction,” Kiwanda told AFP on Thursday.

Part of the plan to market Ugandan women is a beauty pageant, Miss Curvy Uganda, to be held in June. “The winner of the Miss Curvy contest was to be part of our tourism campaign brand using beauty as one other product of tourism,” Kiwanda said.

Ugandan women were outraged at the proposal and have called for Kiwanda’s resignation. “This is perversion. To think women can be used as sex objects in this age and time is an absurdity and we condemn it,” Rita Aciro, executive director of the Uganda Women’s Network, told AFP.

Ugandan entrepreneur and activist Primrose Nyonyozi Murungi launched an online petition to stop the campaign, which she said was “totally unacceptable and demeaning to us“. “Women in Uganda have been attacked while on the streets. What happens now is that the government is confirming a stereotype that women are sexual objects and can be touched regardless and more so made a product of tourism,” she told AFP.

She said that if the campaign was not stopped immediately, the petitioners would take their case to court. She called for Kiwanda’s resignation and demanded an apology from the government.

Uganda’s minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda (C) poses next to participants during the launch of the Miss Curvy beauty contest in capital Kampala on February 5, 2019. Image: STRINGER / AFP

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni — who last year criticised fellow Ugandan Quinn Abenakyo for “wearing Indian hair” after she was crowned Miss World Africa — commented on the row. “We were encouraging Miss World Africa (Abenakyo) to market Uganda. If we do that are we right?” he said. “What we should ask is, should our children be involved in exploitative appearances? We should ask whether appearances are an issue,” the president added.

Former opposition leader in parliament Winnie Kiiza told AFP the move came “at a time (when) women face fear and stigma in a male-dominated society“. “We have been outraged by this campaign that a government can parade curves of women as a tourist attraction,” she said.

Kiwanda, trying to stem the anger, insisted the campaign was not aimed at demeaning women. “Diverse as we are as a country we have a message to put out there about the different curves our women have, which we believe is a tourism attraction.” 

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