Participants in an African beauty pageant hope to challenge a dangerous stigma faced by people with albinism.

Thirty East Africans with albinism from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to compete in the 2018 Mr. and Miss Albinism East Africa pageant, reports Al Jazeera. The contest was hosted by the Albinism Society of Kenya. Winners Maryanne Muigai (from Kenya) and Silas Shedrack (from Tanzania) won cash prizes and will be serve as ambassadors for the organization during the next year.

The pageant’s purpose was to celebrate beauty, but also to teach people about the rare skin condition.

“We are here mainly to create awareness, to do advocacy … showcasing our beauty and talent,” contestant Okwii Simon Peter told Reuters.

Albinism is a condition fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa: one in 1,400 Tanzanians and one in 1,000 Kenyans affected. Caused by one's genetics, those with albinism have eyes, skin and hair with little to no pigmentation. Despite its prevalence on the continent, albinos are regularly subjected to abuse because of the color of their skin.

Albinos have been killed and maimed by predators who want to sell their body parts to citizens who believe they hold magical powers. They also face bullying, job discrimination and kidnapping.

According to a 2017 piece by The Los Angeles Times, at least 20 albinos have been killed in Malawi since 2014 and 75 have been killed in Tanzania since 2000. Children with albinism have been snatched from their homes or as they walk to school. Mothers who give birth to babies with albinism are also sometimes mistreated.

Some albinos aren't even safe in death. The Nairobi News reports albinos who have passed are at risk of being exhumed so their body parts can be used in rituals.

South African model and lawyer Thando Hopa, who has albinism, told Top Women, “The supernatural attributes ascribed to people who have albinism are a huge problem. Whether we are considered good or bad luck, cursed, immortal or whatever, all of these are hurdles that dehumanize us.”

Hopa added, “I cringe when people talk about albinism and say we are ‘human like everybody else’ – automatically suggesting inferiority. Having to convince others you are, in fact, a human being is something no-one should be subjected to.”

The pageant participants said they felt the contest was a move in the right direction and that it provided a good platform for future change.

Contestant Sherleen Tunai Lumumba said, "I made a lot of new friends from different African countries and this event helped me to create new links with people living with albinism."

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