MANILA, Philippines – Miss Afghanistan Vida Samadzai (search), condemned in her homeland for parading in a bikini at the Miss Earth (search) contest, failed to make the semifinals but won the pageant's first "beauty for a cause" award on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Samadzai, the first Afghan in three decades to take part in a beauty contest, she was cited for "symbolizing the newfound confidence, courage and spirit of today's women" and for "representing the victory of women's rights and various social, personal and religious struggles." Samadzai could face prosecution if she returns to her native country, a senior Afghan justice official said Saturday.
Fazel Ahmad Manawi (search), deputy head of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, told The Associated Press that Samadzai, a college student in California, had betrayed Afghan culture by appearing at the Miss Earth contest in a bikini — and may have also broken the law.
"I hope that this lady regrets her actions," Manawi said. He added that Afghan prosecutors may open an investigation, but refused to say what charges or penalties Samadzai could face.
Regardless of any legal action, Samadzai's parading down a catwalk in a red bikini during the contest's qualification last month was a radical departure from the traditional image of Afghan women.
Samadzai said in an earlier interview that she felt uncomfortable in the skimpy attire, but did it to qualify for the contest and raise awareness of the plight of women and children in her homeland.
She said she was "appointed" as a contestant by people aware of her work as a volunteer fund raiser and as a founder of an Afghan women's rights organization.
"It gives me a chance to speak up and send my voice out there and let people know that the Afghans are in great need of help," she said.
Samadzai left Afghanistan in 1996 to study in the United States.
The Miss Earth crown went Sunday to Miss Honduras Dania Prince (search). Brazil's Pricila Zandona was selected first runner-up, Costa Rica's Marianela Zeledon Bolanos was chosen second runner-up, and Miss Poland Marta Matyjasik was third runner-up.