LONDON             -       A Miss World contestant stripped of her title for being a mother has launched a human rights challenge against the “sexist, outdated” pageant.

Veronika Didusenko was disqualified from the competition, run by British businesswoman Julia Morley, for being a parent and a divorcee.

The 24-year-old model was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018 and was set to appear at the Miss World final in China that year, but was barred over her personal life and had her £10,000 prize money taken away despite it being pledged to a charity.

Didusenko has branded the competition’s personal criteria “humiliating” and “insulting”, and is now launching a legal challenge with the help of UK human rights lawyers, who will argue that the rule barring her taking part is discriminatory.

Mother of young son Alex, 5, the model has a passion for maths and wanted to use her prize money to help children in the subject, but the Ukrainian is now preparing a legal case in London ahead of the capital hosting the next Miss World final. “It’s a sexist, outdated, old-fashioned, archaic, discriminatory, humiliating, insulting rule which we need to change,” she said of the marital and maternal prohibitions. They use sexist stereotypes. Very archaic arguments. It’s not fit for our century.”

Miss World was founded in 1951 by Eric Morley, who also created Come Dancing for the BBC. Following his death in 2000, his wife has organised the pageant, and sought to modernise it. However, last year, after Didusenko was encouraged in her entry for Miss Ukraine, she was stripped of her crown when her personal life did not fit competition criteria for the 68-year-old beauty contest.

“I felt so humiliated,” she said.  “I felt very shocked. It was a platform to develop my charity cause. I didn’t understand how being a mother could affect my capability to take part in Miss World. I didn’t understand how my maternity status or my marital status could affect my opportunities, just because I’m a mom. It was very upsetting.”

Didusenko is represented by a luminary legal team, included Ravi Naik, involved in a Cambridge Analytica case, and Marie Demitriou QC, who represented sex-tested South African athlete Caster Semenya. They intend to make a case that Miss World dethroning their client is discriminatory under the Equality Act.

Didusenko said of the current rule: “It’s super old-fashioned, it was written like 70 years ago, when racial segregation was still the norm. I hope that our campaign will be successful and show that equality is for everyone, and that mothers can take part in beauty pageants. It can be so empowering,” she added. “It can be an empowering pageant, instead of a discriminatory pageant.”

Miss World has been the subject of controversy before, and the protests during the 1970 competition, which saw the first competitor of black ancestry crowned, have become the basis for a feature film. It was after this event that Mrs Morley coined the term “beauty with a purpose” as the slogan for the pageant.

The competition website still carries the entry rule: “Contestants may not be married or pregnant. They must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled nor given birth to, or parented a child. The titleholders are also required to remain unmarried throughout their reign.”

Didusenko said she was unaware of the old rule when applying, and was encouraged in her entry.