Veronika Didusenko had only been Miss Ukraine for a few days before she was stripped of her title for having a child and having been married.
Now, the model is taking legal action against the UK-based Miss World organization, which determines the rules for affiliate pageants like Miss Ukraine, alleging that its rules are discriminatory.
“The Equality Act (2010) protects against discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics, including marriage, maternity and sex,” British human rights lawyer Ravi Naik, who is representing Didusenko, said in a statement.
“The reason Veronika was not allowed to compete in Miss World is because she was married and had a child. Quite simply, denying her the chance of competing on those bases would seem to breach those protections against discrimination.”
Soon after Didusenko was crowned Miss Ukraine in September 2018, the national beauty pageant announced she would be disqualified from competing in Miss World, and that it would revoke her title.
The pageant said Didusenko “provided false information” by signing an agreement stating that she had never been married and did not have children, which are among the requirements for participating in the competition.
While Didusenko did admit to reporting false information, she said the rules barring mothers and previously married women are “so archaic, so outdated, so old-fashioned.”
After losing her title, Didusenko launched a global campaign called #RightToBeAMother and spent a year building a coalition of support, with the goal of getting Miss World to change its rules and allow all women to participate in its beauty pageants.
“It’s not about the crown,” she told CNN. “It’s about the rules and the discriminatory policies which Miss World has now in the 21st century.”
Miss World says the rules about marriage and children are in place because holding the title of Miss World is a demanding task.
“The rules under which Miss World operates are constantly under review,” Miss World said in part in a statement. “The rules are set with the principal aim of finding a Miss World who is free and able to commit, often at short notice, to travel globally in support of the sick and disadvantaged which may be for long periods of time, often to areas devastated by natural disasters.”
But Didusenko said it’s “patronizing” for Miss World to suggest that a woman would be unable to fulfill the obligations of the title simply because they have a partner or a child.
“It’s not up to Miss World to decide my ability to balance career and parenting,” she said.
CNN was unable to immediately reach Miss World for further comment, but Miss World chairman Julia Morley attributed the rules to cultural sensitivity on Good Morning Britain in December 2018.
“When you’re trying to get a worldwide organization to agree, you have to look to everyone, and they vote as to what is acceptable,” Morley said.
“Whatever I feel, or whatever Europe feels, is one thing. What the rest of the world may feel, when they’ve got to look at their various religions, various things, if you can understand that we don’t just have our own feelings, we have to consider others.”
But Didusenko and her lawyers say that reasoning isn’t good enough.
“I don’t want the crown back. I want to get the rules changed for wider society,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “These rules are a systemic, widespread and international policy that results in discrimination on large scale across many countries.