Beauty pageant contestants in the South American country of Peru used this year’s Miss Peru contest on Sunday to bring attention to the scourge of violence against women plaguing their country.
Clad in matching gold sequined evening gowns, each woman stepped up the microphone to introduce herself. But instead of giving their bodily measurements, each contestant offered horrific statistics about violence against women in Peru.
“My name is Camila Canicoba,” said the first woman to take the microphone, “and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of murdered women reported in the last nine years in my country.”
Romina Lozana, who went on to win the contest, gave her measurements as the “3,114 women victims of trafficking up until 2014.”
Belgica Guerra offered, “My measurements are: the 65 percent of university women who are assaulted by their partners.”
The hashtag #MisMedidasSon — “my measurements are” — immediately began trending in Peru.
This protest was planned. As each woman spoke, the pageant organizers flashed images of women who had been brutalized across an enormous screen. In the question and answer portion of the contest, women were asked how they would change the legal code to better protect women.
Peru has been rocked by stories of assault and violence against women over the past several years. According to Human Rights Watch, some 700 women were murdered in Peru between 2009 and 2015. One United Nations study found that more than 50 percent of Peruvian women will experience severe domestic violence in her lifetime, a statistic that launches Peru to the top of that grim category. Of Peruvian women between the ages of 15 to 24, more than one-third will experience physical violence.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, has called on the country to change its attitudes toward women. In August 2016, a massive protest swamped Lima under the hashtag #NiUnaMenos — not one less — to draw attention to women murdered in the Peruvian capital.
“This march is a cry against impunity, it’s a cry for equality and for the decent treatment of women,” Ana María Romero, Peru’s minister for women, said at the time. “It will be a milestone, it will mark a before and after. There’s more citizen awareness about women’s rights.”
But violence against women hasn’t abated in Lima.
Just a week before this year’s Miss Peru contest, the hashtag #PeruPaisdeVioladores — “Peru country of rapists” — began trending on Twitter and dividing the country with its aggressive denunciation of rape and violence.
“Although the country had been fiercely debating over the dramatic situation of violence that affects women in the country, viewers of the contest where probably not expecting to hear about it from hopeful Miss Perú contestants,” Lizzy Cantú, a journalist and former editor of a women's weekly magazine, Viù, told me by email. Cantú noted that television is still a really useful way to spread messages in Peru, social media notwithstanding.
“I have to admit it is a bit dissonant to see these beauty queens reciting grim statistics while the audience cheers at the live event,” Cantú said, noting that there hasn’t been universal embracing of the protest. “I guess what is a bit problematic is that you are still using women's measurements — bodies — to sell a message. But I do think that some messages need the widest available distribution.”
Correction: an earlier version of this post misspelled the hashtag: #PeruPaisdeVioladores