PIC: Mr. and Miss Y+ 2017/18 after receiving the Fast Forward Award in Amsterdam
When Martha Nakato, a young woman living with HIV, was crowned Miss Y+ (young positive) 2017/18, eyebrows were raised.
Some critical sentiments were aired.
Some called the idea "crazy" and wondered whether the beauty contest organisers "are making the disease have a desirable sexy look".
A section of the public may have subcribed to such opinion.
But in response, Nakato said it is not about how beautiful or how well-dressed one is.
"[The pageant] does not seek to crown the most beautiful young person living with HIV, but rather it looks out for the bright, focused and open-minded passionate person who will later support other young people," she said.
She added that the contest seeks to recognise a person "one who knows about HIV, who has the information and is willing to share their story to help others".
The Y+ contest was started to end stigma and discrimination among young people living with HIV -- by creating awareness about HIV, encouraging people to know their status and adhere to their medication.
"That is the gist," said Nakato.
Martha Nakato (right) says the pageant seeks to recognise a person "one who knows about HIV" and who is "willing to share their story with others"
It is the Y+ beauty pageant that the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), a non-governmental organisation, presented at the AIDS 2018 conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
They eventually won the coveted Golden Egg, Fast Forward Award.
“We made Uganda proud by shining at a major international AIDS conference," said UNYPA executive director, Nicholas Niwagaba.
"Out of 120 innovative ideas from different countries, only five were concluded on, UNYPA being part of the five nominees. We were lucky enough to represent Uganda."
The aim of the Fast Forward Award is to link the innovations that are in the local communities as solutions to the HIV response and linking them to donors to increase funding for communities and to scale up the success stories.
Such efforts are seen as contributing factors towards ending AIDS by 2030.
Following calls for innovative ideas in May five community-led organisations were nominated to pitch their local innovation live on stage at the AIDS 2018 conference.
“Our pitch for our innovative solution was the 'Y+ Inner Beauty Pageant'," said Niwagaba.
The contest is a celebration of inner beauty of young people living with HIV, he added.
It also fights for zero discrimination and stigma.
"It encourages young people of 16 to 25 openly living with HIV to participate and show their beauty. The Y+ Beauty pageant is proven successful in empowering young people living with HIV to fight stigma in their communities," Niwagaba said.
He called it "a brave step against stigma that still exists in our communities".
The Y+ beauty pageant emerged the best of the best in Amsterdam. (Courtesy photo)
'A story we tell each time'
The pageant aims to encourage more young people to take an HIV test and remove the fear of being known to be living with HIV.
“During the AIDS conference, we made a pitch about the Y+ Beauty pageant before a high-level jury of innovative experts and investors. Beauty pageant for young positives is what we have been doing for the past four years," explained the UNYPA executive director.
"We had to explain how the Y+ pageant is an innovation in itself, how it works and how we equip the young people with skills to become ambassadors or champions and how it is leading to the end of AIDS by 2030."
Ultimately, the jury's decision was unanimous.
"The Y+ pageant is, indeed, an innovative campaign and UNYPA had turned stigma to pride," said Sander Allegro, the chair of the jury and founder of innovation & director of Amsterdam Dinner Foundation.
“This was a milestone achievement for UNYPA and Uganda. The first time we won a Golden Egg Award was in July 2017. This is a story we tell each time we are asked about this blessing," Niwagaba weighed in.
"Unlike other beauty pageants that focus on contestants’ faces and bikinis, UNYPA concentrates on confidence and ability to advocate for community and the knowledge a contestant has about HIV/AIDS."