The Miss Universe Pageant took place over the weekend, and while Harnaaz Sandhu of India came home with the title of 2021 Miss Universe, there were plenty of other contestants who made a splash throughout the competition.

One of those contestants was Miss El Salvador, Alejandra Gavidia, who donned a daring dress for the competition’s annual National Costume Show. 

Alejandra Gavidia wore a dress designed to symbolize the femicide epidemic that is currently ravaging her home country of El Salvador. 

The World Health Organization defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women because they are women,” but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls. Femicide differs from male-on-male homicide because it usually is perpetrated by the hands of a romantic partner and involves “ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.”

The dress instantly lit up social media with its bold message — the type of message that isn’t talked about very much at beauty pageants. “Miss El Salvador demonstrated that this platform of millions of people should be used to denounce and raise awareness,” wrote one Twitter user. “Miss Universe El Salvador really impacted me with her national costume appearance,” wrote another. “What a powerful message to the Universe!”

Historically, the National Costume Show is meant to be a chance for the contestants to wear costumes that celebrate the culture, practices and traditions stemming from their country. But over the years, the costume show has increasingly become a place for the contestants to bring attention to controversies plaguing their home countries. 

In an Instagram post, Gavidia gave an in-depth description of every detail of the dress and what each detail represented. 

According to Gavidia, the dress honors the 71 reported victims of femicide and missing women, ostensibly this year. The hands on her dress were painted by “real people who have lost relatives or loved ones to femicide or disappearance.” The fabric was shot and distressed to “represent how our Constitution and society have suffered” from both femicide and the impunity of the perpetrators.

In addition, the candles on the bottom of the dress “represent the hope family members have to get justice for their loved ones.” The unlit candles on her shoulders “represent those who have lost hope…”

“The chains on my right arm represent all the social and political pressure that sometimes hinders the search for justice,” explained Gavidia in her caption. 

“And finally, the blindfold is black as a symbol of mourning, but it ends in a very dark green that symbolizes hope for all.”

While femicide is a global issue, Latin America is especially affected by this problem. According to El Salvador’s National Civil Police, El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, with 13.49 women dying violently at the hands of men for every 100,000 women in the country. 

Fittingly, the blindfold around Gavidia’s eyes reads: “Ni una menos, ni un desaparecido más,” a common rallying cry amongst anti-femicide activists. Let’s hope that Alejandra Gavidia’s costume enlightened some viewers on the topic of femicide who may not have heard about it otherwise.