Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Indonesia: Miss World 2013: an opportunity for Indonesia’s conservatives to engage

Miss World 2013: an opportunity for Indonesia’s conservatives to engage

by Nilam Suri

24 September 2013

Jakarta – "Our position is clear, we reject Indonesia being the host of Miss World," said Amidhan Sabera, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), "because exposing their bodies in a contest is against Islamic teachings." The Miss World 2013 pageant, currently being held in Indonesia (8-28 September), has caused major controversy in the country. Several other religious organisations, like Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), have also rejected the pageant because they consider it condescending to women, morally-degrading and contrary to Islamic values.

I myself, a Muslim woman, see beauty pageants as just another form of entertainment on television. But many think that hosting Miss World is doing more good than harm for Indonesia because it is an opportunity for Indonesia to be in the international spotlight.

Differences in views and opinions are inevitable, but we ought not impose our own opinions on others. How might Indonesians find common ground amid the conflicting opinions about Miss World 2013?

As Indonesia hosts this prominent international event, Indonesians opposing Miss World 2013 due to its perceived exploitation of women have a golden opportunity not only to introduce alternative values to the event, but also to incorporate those values into similar world events – helping make them more inclusive culturally.

“Wherever I go in the world, I always respect the views and the wishes of the country. We try really hard not to make mistakes and offend anybody,“ said Julia Morley, the chairwoman of the Miss World Organisation.

The Miss World 2013 organiser has made a few accommodations like eliminating the bikini contest to be more appropriate for Indonesian culture and moving the event from Jakarta and Bogor (West Java), to Bali, a Hindu-majority island known for being an international tourism destination.

Many groups are still protesting the event. But Indonesia is no stranger to beauty pageants. We have our own, like Indonesian Princess (Putri Indonesia) and Miss Indonesia. The only major difference between our local pageants and international ones is the absence of a bikini contest.

On 18 September Nigerian Obabiyi Aishah Abibola was crowned Miss World Muslimah in Jakarta. Eka Shanti, who founded the beauty pageant in 2011, explained that, “Miss World Muslimah is Islam’s answer to Miss World…This year we deliberately held our event just before the Miss World final to show that there are alternative role models for Muslim women.” Twenty Muslim women from around the world participated in this pageant. Winners are selected based on criteria such as religious knowledge and reciting the Qur’an.

Miss World Muslimah is evidence that beauty pageants are universal; they cut across religious and national boundaries. Women regardless of nationality, ethnicity and religion can participate if they so choose. Both Miss World and Miss World Muslimah have their own place in the beauty pageant world and the public is free to choose which they prefer.

Nevertheless, holding an event to deliberately show opposition to another seems only to lock people into opposing positions.

Instead, this is an incredible opportunity to work with the Miss World Organisation and others to weave more of Indonesia’s diverse values and criteria into beauty pageants. Criteria that address the underlying concerns could be brainstormed and incorporated.

For example, a special section during which all contestants paraded in Indonesian eclectic traditional costumes was added to the opening ceremony. Such culturally interesting additions can be brought to other global events. We can shift the focus from body to mind, assessing contestants primarily on their intelligence and attitude.

This pageant is also a perfect moment for Indonesia to show that we are an honourable nation that respects our guests despite differences in religion and culture, while contributing something at the international level.

Win-win solutions are possible. When some objected to the winner of Indonesian Princess representing Indonesia in Miss Universe in 2005, the organiser of Miss Universe permitted contestants to replace the bikini with a one-piece swimsuit.

Similar solutions can be implemented again at the international level, which might change the way beauty pageants are conducted globally. Indonesia has an opportunity to make international pageants culturally more inclusive.


* Nilam Suri is a novelist and managing editor of an Indonesian female online magazine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 September 2013,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.