A traditional beauty contest in Argentina that forms part of an annual wine festival has been gripped by controversy, with the debate even prompting judicial intervention.
Mendoza, Argentina's famed grape-growing region, crowned its annual 'Reina de la vendimia' ("Queen of the harvest") once again this year at the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (The Grape Harvest National Festival) celebrating vintners and wine. The contest, however, was challenged by feminist campaigners who question its validity in this day and age.
For the first time since 1936, full provincial participation in the contest was threatened after one of Mendoza's 18 departments, Guaymallén, sought change. In 2021, the region decided to eliminate its regional qualification contest, preferring to choose a candidate "blind" without considering their physical appearance.
The case prompted a debate that went all the way to Mendoza's provincial Supreme Court, which intervened in favour of the contest continuing on the grounds that the Fiesta de la Vendimia is "cultural heritage of the province" and can be maintained as long as "the objectification of women" is prevented.
And so, to applause, the 'virreinas' dressed in red capes, sceptres and crowns as usual last weekend to parade through the city on floats and compete in the election of the festival's queen, takes place by popular vote.
Ana Laura Verde, 22, from the municipality of La Paz, was chosen as the 2023 queen.
But for some locals, the contest has lost all meaning – even in the opinion of one of its former queens.
"Times have changed, it is no longer politically correct. If it doesn't change it will end up disappearing," said Sofia Haudet, a 29-year-old public relations graduate who won the 2014 competition and is now a member of the Ni Una Menos feminist campaign group.
The row is part of a wider debate. Over the last decade, inspired by Argentina's vigorous feminist movement, more than 70 localities have eliminated the election of 'queens' at local festivities.
"It is anachronistic, antiquated and discriminatory, but we are going to comply with the Court's ruling," Guaymallén Mayor Marcelino Iglesias, announced back in January.
Responding to the ruling, the department then held an unprecedented "blind queen" election in which candidates were voted for not for their physical appearance or age, but for a phrase representing their aspirations.
Natalia Mercery, a 35-year-old mother of three who wears her hair in colourful dreadlocks that run down to her waist, was the winner.
"This way in Guaymallen it is no longer a beauty contest and women are no longer criticised and judged for their figure but rather considered for their positive aspects and knowledge," Mercery told AFP.