Miss Fix the Universe: Alternative ‘pageant’ in Israel highlights beauty of ideas

Part-protest competition organized by Israel Women’s Network awards prizes for social entrepreneurship

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

From left to right: Efrat Duvdevani, Director General of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation; Israeli actress Esti Zakheim, who hosted the 'Miss Fix the Universe' event, Einat Fischer Lalo, Director of the Israel Women’s Network. (Sivan Shachor)
From left to right: Efrat Duvdevani, Director General of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation; Israeli actress Esti Zakheim, who hosted the 'Miss Fix the Universe' event, Einat Fischer Lalo, Director of the Israel Women’s Network. (Sivan Shachor)

An international pageant that judges young women mainly on their physical appearance according to manufactured beauty standards may still be taking place in 2021, this time in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat on Sunday evening, but not all critics are simply ignoring the 70th Miss Universe contest or dismissing it with an eye roll.

A group of Israeli women came up with an alternative event to the annual Miss Universe pageant, where 80 contestants from around the world will compete in evening gowns and swimwear for the title, answering a series of interview questions where the vague notion of “world peace” may or may not come up.

Part protest, part awareness campaign, the “Miss Fix the Universe” competition sought to highlight the beauty of the ideas and values behind Israeli women working on social initiatives in fields like sustainability, equality, and human rights. The event was the brainchild of the Israel Women’s Network, a feminist civil society organization that promotes gender equality, and was held Saturday evening at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa.

Women from all backgrounds were invited to submit their candidacy and over 200 proposals were vetted for a chance to win NIS 30,000 ($9,672) in funding, donated by the event’s sponsors which included Israeli food company Strauss; investment firm Pitango, founded by Chemi Peres, son of the late statesman Shimon Peres; insurance company Clal; and the Ministry of Social Equality.

A panel of seven judges led by retired district court head Saviona Rotlevy selected 15 finalists, and the three winning initiatives were announced Saturday evening. They included a project called “Shame Aside,” which hopes to empower female victims of domestic violence; “Job360,” an initiative founded by two entrepreneurs, an ultra-Orthodox woman and an Arab Israeli woman, to increase employment in their respective communities through training and skill acquisition offerings; and the “Lobby Against Sexual Violence,” an existing organization that pushes policy and legislation changes with regard to how victims are treated by authorities.

Another three projects will receive business consulting services offed by Deloitte, also a sponsor of the event.

Shachar Klaider-Levy, the spokeswoman for the Israel Women’s Network, told The Times of Israel that the idea was to “highlight the true beauty of engagement and activism, and of women working toward a better world, a better universe.”

“The Miss Universe is a pageant with a format that hasn’t changed in 70 years, where women are judged by their beauty, their height, their weight, their age. Women can no longer associate themselves with this idea, especially in a post-MeToo world,” she said.

The platform created by the organization for the “Miss Fix the Universe” contest “gave women the ability to show their work and their activism, and these are true accomplishments,” said Klaider-Levy.

Israel Women’s Network director Einat Fischer Lalo said that “to measure a woman by how she looks and the size of her waist is an erroneous way of looking at the place of women in society.”

“Women bring amazing initiatives into the world, which bring hope and change to society, science, to businesses and the environment, in Israel and the world at large. This is the time to respect the activism and the forward-thinking, to celebrate, to fund and to promote projects that work for a better world, and the women who stand behind them,” she said in a press statement.

In her speech at the event Saturday evening, director-general of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, Efrat Duvdevani, said, “we promote female entrepreneurship, we also promote football for Jewish and Arab girls, and recently we launched a special tour of female innovation. I believe it is important to see the goals we have reached, what is still missing, and also what we still need to achieve. We discovered along the way a parallel line between the DNA of making peace, the DNA of innovation and the female DNA.”

Klaider-Levy said the organization was now looking into how to take the “Miss Fix the Universe” competition forward, perhaps by making it an annual event.

On Friday, an Israeli production team said it tried to convince Miss Universe organizers to replace the contestants’ traditional swimsuit competition with sports gear, to no avail.

Miss Universe 2021 will be held in Eilat Sunday night and broadcast live to more than 600 million viewers in 172 countries via the Fox network. The pageant is the third most viewed annual television show in the world, according to organizers.

While the decision to host the 70th edition of the Miss Universe pageant in Israel has caused some political controversy — including the decision of South Africa to pull backing from its contestant — the competition has largely been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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