Imagine growing up in Africa with no skin pigment. Not only do you look as different as you can from your kin and community, but there is no natural barrier of protection against the sun.
This is the lot of millions of Africans today with albinism—a condition where there is no melanin in skin, hair and eyes—and unfortunately, the sun is the least of their worries.
Kenya has hosted the world’s first albino beauty pageant to help combat the persecution albinos face in many East African nations including Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi.
— Bob Crowe (@bob_crowe) October 31, 2016
“Beauty Beyond Skin” was held in Nairobi and featured 10 women and 10 men with albinism. Participants dressed up as army officers, waiters and police officers to show they were able to take part in every aspect of society, reports The Independent.
Loyce Lihanda, who was crowned Miss Albinism Kenya, said to The Guardian: “For so long albinos have been treated as half-humans because they [are] different. In turn this has affected our self-esteem and the ability to utilise and explore our skills and talents.”
In certain African nations, albino people face persecution and even death from communities who fear them.
Albinism is regarded as a curse in Kenya and slurs like “zeru” (ghost in Swahili) or “pesa,” a reference to the monetary value of their dead bodies, are regularly hurled at those with the condition. (The Independent reports that a complete set of albino body parts—including all four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose––can garner up to $75,000 on the black market).
There are also many dangerous myths in Africa around albinos, including: their body parts bring wealth and good luck; their bones contain gold which can be extracted through drilling; and sex with an albino person can cure HIV/AIDS.
The Independent notes that in 2015, 35 albino people were evacuated from towns near the Kenya-Tanzania border after a spike in ritual killings, which was allegedly linked to local politicians hoping to win election.
Kenya’s first ever albino Member of Parliament, Isaac Mwaura, said: “A time is coming when we will have people with albinism serving in the army and police force. We already have some in the National Youth Service, and this is a milestone in achieving inclusion despite the difference in skin color.”
He adds, “We have come to say that people with disability are beautiful people. We can have the names ‘beautiful’, ‘handsome’ and ‘albinism’ in one society.”