Ivory Coast carnival
Men dressed in colourful gowns pose during a recent carnival in east of Abidjan Reuters

In a beauty pageant with a difference, men dressed in colourful evening gowns and stylish hairdo walked the ramp at Abidjan in Ivory Coast to claim their ownership on the Miss Woubi title. Thirteen men participated in the annual gala, which is aimed at encouraging the town's gay population to shed inhibitions over their sexual orientation.

After four rounds of sashaying different costumes – bathing suits to bright-coloured evening gowns, the judges crowned Paulina as Miss Woubi. He is a hairdresser from Abidjan's Yopougon neighbourhood.

The title of the event comes from the term "woubi", a slang word used in the region to refer to a man who plays the role of a wife in a homosexual relationship. Although the region, especially Abidjan is among the most tolerant places for same-sex relationships and homosexuality is not criminalised, gays and lesbians still face hatred at times from the general populace. The legal system too does not have specific protection for these people, which force many gay men and women to keep their relations under wraps and live either in secrecy or denial.

Organisers of the event, which first took place in 2009, claim that the pageant is an attempt to help people come out of those societal barriers and bring Abidjan's gay people together on one platform, even if it is just for an evening.

"In general, when there are parties in the community, we want participants to adhere to a certain dress code. Effeminate people are undesirable people. But Miss Woubi is open to the entire community, despite their sexual orientation or gender expression," Malika, a transgender woman who competed in the pageant in 2012 was quoted as saying by the Ivory Coast edition of the Guardian.

Despite ample security arrangements, the participants reportedly expressed concerns about their safety, given the event was taking place in a West African country. As a security measure, photography is officially prohibited at the event. The 2013 pageant had to be cancelled after the event garnered unwanted media attention when photographs of previous year's events were leaked in a publication.

The cross-dressing trend is a familiar sight during the week-long Popo Carnival in Bonoua, Ivory Coast, which is a celebration of cultural heritage of the Aboure people. Men dress as women or wear strange hairstyles while parading across the town during the carnival.