As the Liberian beauty pageant industry sinks deeper into its notorious reputation for controversy, progress and purpose also follows suit. Goretti Itoka once held the title of 1st runner-up in the last Miss Liberia pageant in 2016, but her journey in purpose is far from complete. With her recent coronation as Miss Mano River Union International 2019, she has a lot to say about her journey to the crown, and how being a beauty queen has pushed her into advocacy for the empowerment of women, especially in the agriculture sector.
In a recent koloqua dialogue, this beauty with brains proved that she is holding on to her crown with head raised high, standing behind her platform. The dialogue went a little something like this…
In Conversation with Miss MRU 2019, Goretti Itoka
TKD: What does it mean to you to be crowned the 2019 Miss Mano River Union?
GI: I am elated and proud to be crowned the 1st Miss Mano River Union (MRU) International 2019. I am overwhelmed of being clothed with the responsibility to create the pathway for all the other MRU National and International Pageants. This median event was themed “Beauty and Intelligence for Advocacy”, supporting the 5th sustainable development goal on gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment. Bringing the first crown home to my beloved country, Liberia, gives me an unexplainable type of joy – being chosen amongst many qualified and graceful Liberian girls to hold the crown of authority as Liberia’s representative and winning… I am still processing my excitement.
TKD: In your view, what significance does this pageant hold for the nations part of the Mano River Union?
GI: The key objective of the Mano River Union Agreement is to promote goodwill, neighboring corporation, and peaceful co-existence amongst people of the four countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire). I believe that this pageant, organized by the youth wing, was meant to find a youth Ambassador who can assist in their efforts to promote gender equality, tourism, trade and economic growth for young people in the Mano River countries.
TKD: What role will you play as Queen in fostering this significance?
GI: During my reign as Miss MRU International, I intend to implement and advocate for gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls, especially in agriculture. As a student of agriculture, I believe I can encourage more women into the profession to create a higher percentage of self-sustenance and independence in the Union. It is no secret that women make up 43% of farm laborers (USAID), serving as a crucial source for production and harvest, yet have no titles or ownership to lands and farms to enable them properly care for themselves and family. Besides promoting tourism, peace, and trade within the Union, I am going to use my platform to support in eradicating poverty through gender equality in agriculture by:
- Advocating for laws to provide women direct ownership of farmland.
- Advocating for the establishment of an agriculture bank where poor female farmers can take loans to expand their production.
- Working with the sector heads to implement direct investment (roads, farming equipment, preservation technologies, piping water to farming locations etc.) into agriculture starting from the poorest of the poor.
- Creating awareness and working with career developers to encourage students develop interest into the field of agriculture.
- Advocating for the establishment of processing plants to sort, prepare and package local produce thereby increasing their values for internal consumption and for exports.
TKD: After having competed and placed as runner up in the last Miss Liberia pageant held back in 2016, how do you feel about the pageant industry in Liberia? What do you think can be done to build more trust in the industry?
GI: I believe a lot can be done to improve the pageant industry in Liberia by firstly starting with consistency and Integrity. Unfortunately, two years down the line since I was crowned Miss Liberia 2nd Runner-Up, I have not been able to turn over my title or guide another lady following her dreams of being a pageant queen. I am proud to have served and I look forward to working with the next group of organizers for Miss Liberia.
Pageantry in Liberia has long been riddled with one controversy after another. Although, with humility, passion, and determination from queens like Miss Mano River International 2019, Goretti Itoka, we are positive of the future of the pageant industry.