Despite the Ministry of Social Affair’s requesting the termination of Miss Landmine Cambodia, a contest for female landmine survivors, the contest’s creator said Sunday that he plans to move ahead with the project’s opening exhibition this week.
“I’m very surprised,” said Morten Traavik, creator and director of Miss Landmine Cambodia. “In two years of developing this project, we have had very good dialogue with Cambodian authorities. We have had full support from the minister of Social Affairs and the Women’s Affairs Ministry—right up to now.”
On Friday, the Social Affairs Ministry released a statement denying a July 28 article in a local English-language newspaper stating that Miss Landmine 2009 had the support of the ministry. “Ministry of Social Affairs would like the organizer of this contest to stop action immediately in order to protect the honor and dignity of disabled Cambodians, especially women,” read the statement.
Successfully executing the first Miss Landmine competition in Angola last year, Mr Traavik said that the main focus of Miss Landmine is to address the continuing global landmine problem. “It is also to challenge society to look at these women not as victims but as active strong people who can contribute to society—it’s giving these women a voice,” he added.
Just five days before the Aug 7 opening of a photo exhibition at Meta House in Phnom Penh meant to kickoff the Miss Landmine Cambodia project, Mr Traavik said he received a statement from the Ministry of Social Affairs stating he no longer had the government’s approval. He said he sent a request to meet with the minister of Social Affairs to see if he could “work things out.”
Mr Traavik, a 38-year-old artist from Norway, said Miss Landmine Cambodia has been working closely with the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO) and the government’s Cambodian Mine Action Authority in creating this project, which includes the participation of 20 landmine survivors between the ages of 18 to 48. He said that each candidate has been photographed in various locations around the country, with the photos to be displayed this Friday at the exhibition. Friday also marks the day when online voting for Miss Landmine will begin, wherein the public worldwide can select which candidate they wish to win both the title of Miss Landmine Cambodia and a custom-made prosthetic limb from Norway.
Mr Traavik said he hopes government officials will attend Friday’s exhibition and witness the photos firsthand as well as speak with him and the candidates before shutting down the project. “If they see it and still disapprove, I will accept their decision to close it,” he said.
Thong Vinal, executive director for the Social Affairs Ministry’s Disability Action Council, said Sunday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had signed onto the ministry’s letter of disapproval, but he did not know when the premier had done so.
Sem Sokha, secretary of state for the Social Affairs Ministry, declined to comment and referred questions to the Minister of Social Affairs Ith Samheng, who could not be reached Sunday. Ing Kantha Phavi, minister of Women’s Affairs, also could not be reached for comment Sunday.