PROTESTS held by the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF) and other affiliated women's groups on Sunday over the participation by Legislative Councillors Peggy Lam and Man Sai-cheong as judges in the Miss Hong Kong Beauty Pageant triggers offtwo debates. First of all,does this beauty pageant create a degrading cultural image of women? This also raises questions about feminist censorship and individual freedom of speech. Secondly, failure by the Hong Kong United Democrats to provide a consistent line on women's issues provokes scepticism on the party's determination to seek equality between men and women. This prompts the question of whether political parties are merely paying lip-service when introducing a manifesto working for women's interests. Both Mrs Lam and Mr Man have special ties to the women's rights platform. Mrs Lam is the chairperson of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, an organisation aimed at fighting for the betterment of the female sex while Mr Man is the United Democrats' deputyspokesman on women's policies. And it is this embarrassing status that has made the two public figures particularly vulnerable to attack. The AAF, a prominent feminist organisation in the territory, has been voicing vehement opposition towards the two judges. According to the association, the contest presents women in stigmatised ''sexualised'' images. ''Women are portrayed as commercialised sex objects in the beauty contest who can only appeal to the public with their appearance and figure,'' explains the AAF's spokeswoman, Tsang Kar-yin. In their Sunday protest, the AAF petitioned the Hong Kong Federation of Women and the United Democrats, urging Mrs Lam and Mr Man to quit their job as judges of the Miss Hong Kong Finals this Sunday. ''It is ludicrous to have two legislators who are closely related to women's rights to be so insensitive about women's issues,'' adds Ms Tsang. In response to the accusation, both Mrs Lam and Mr Man insist that the beauty contest is not a disgrace to a woman's dignity and is in no way discriminatory against women. ''Similar beauty contests have been held all over the world. Miss Hong Kong is just a popular cultural event which provides opportunities for girls to present themselves and maybe to take a shortcut to the entertainment and film industry. I do not see the event itself as indecent or in any way obscene,'' says Mrs Lam. Meanwhile, Mrs Lam disputes the criticism that it is inappropriate for a leader of a women's organisation to adjudicate in a beauty contest and argues that she was invited because of her post on Legco. AAF disparages the explanation offered by Mrs Lam. Ms Tsang comments that: ''Mrs Lam's understanding of women's issues is questionable.'' Lily Chan, TVB's external affairs division controller, organisers of this contest which has a long history here, says: ''Miss Hong Kong is a goodwill ambassador presenting and promoting the territory's culture and prosperity. She has to participate in a lot of public events and charity activities such as those organised by the Consumer Council and the Hong Kong Tourist Association. Miss Hong Kong needs beauty and wit,'' she adds. UDHK legislator Man Sai-cheong identifies the issue as a matter of individual moral judgment. He dissents from the argument that the contest is humiliating to women. ''I'll continue to work as adjudicator for the final because personally I do not think the event damages a woman's well-being,'' says Mr Man. Nevertheless, his stance is not shared by his UDHK co-workers. The Women's Committee of the party is backing the feminist view. According to the UDHK Women's Committee Co-ordinator, Chan Shu-ying, the committee rules that the beauty contest sexually discriminates against women in reiterating a biased gender stereotype. ''The women's committee was not informed in advance about Mr Man's involvement in the beauty contest and we'll be disappointed if he insists on taking part in the contest,'' says Ms Chan. ''The Committee thinks that Mr Man has violated the party's principles, but under this circumstance, where individual morals are also at stake, the matter should be cautiously handled with flexibility and sensibility,'' Ms Chan adds. The United Democrats' Central Committee has not yet decided if punitive action will be taken against Mr Man, but the party strongly urges him to resign from the adjudicating job. As far as Mr Man is concerned, whether the images promoted by the Miss HongKong pageant are derogatory or not is a matter of individual interpretation. ''Even though some party members may disagree with me, I still think that individual members should be allowed to express their own standpoint. It is dangerous to uphold a dogmatised, party-led moral value,'' says Mr Man. The mere existence of a beauty contest casts doubts on whether political parties are serious in their pledges to evade sex-discrimination. Prominent UDHK member Reverend Fung Chi-wood, who is also the deputy co-ordinator of the party's women's committee,admits that there has been negligence in the party. ''The party does not have a standpoint on individual issues like beauty contests as there have been no previous discussions on such a matter despite the fact that it is definitely part of our women's policies to eradicate all sex-discriminating culturalimages in the media,'' he says.