Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region has crowned the third Miss Kurdistan, though the beauty contest took place without bikini-clad in the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Thursday.
The pageant was sponsored by the Kurdistan Tourism Board and Babylon Company. Babylon manager Salwan Zaitoun said the event cost an estimated $350,000.
The winner, Zhalia Sirwan, is a 20-year old college student from Sulaimani city.
Over 70 Kurdish women applied for the Miss Kurdistan 2016 beauty pageant while only 11 candidates have been chosen as the event takes place on Thursday.
The third annual Miss Kurdistan beauty pageant raises questions of what is beauty, feminism, and the role of women in Kurdish society.
“I think that women are beautiful and they make the world more beautiful,” Maria Manousaki, producer of the film Cloudy Sunday and member of the pageant’s jury, told Rudaw. “No matter what age or necessity and Kurdish women are especially beautiful.”
“Beauty is a word that has a lot of connotations and symbolisms and practicalities so I am waiting to listen,” Manousaki added.
“The facial and the intellectual and the psychic and the practicality: how is the beauty used? It is a beautiful county, Kurdistan. What do I do for my country? What do I do for the world? What can I do? A prize not only gives you honor but a road to do things,” she explained.
The event was hosted by Babylon FM’s Saz Aso and Noor Matti. Matti praised Kurdish women to the 400 people in attendance at the event, “In Kurdistan, I love how families are really close together and the mother is the head of the family.”
Neshuan Zato, one of the event’s organizers, said society is changing, “particularly for women… for freedom, for using her rights, for equality, for everything.”
Another member of the jury, Angelina Miran, known as “Angel B” on Babylon FM, explained that the women are judged on charisma and personality.
“I think it’s something that shines,” Miran told Rudaw before the pageant began. “It’s something inside, like a light. You can see in their eyes. I had the pleasure to interview some of the contestants and some have more of a glow than others. This is really their time to shine.”
Miran believes that the event is a step in the right direction with respect to women’s role in Kurdish society.
“This is a step in the right direction. I think it is a positive sign. All the girls have a strong sense of women’s power and empowering women in Kurdistan. It’s nice for them to get glammed up and events like this are positive. I think the girls would stand just as good a chance in America as they would here.”
Organizers of the event also hoped to show to the world that life in the Kurdistan Region goes on, despite the financial crisis and the frontline with the Islamic State just down the road.
“We are trying to the world that we are still living,” Zato told Rudaw. “We are not just the people who are fighting and sitting in the problems. We are now showing the world that we are living normal lives. We have our social lives and everything. So we want to show the world that they can come here. They can join us. They can do business here. They can come for tourism. That is the target of this event.”