A Pakistan-born and New Zealand-bred girl is taking part in Miss Pakistan World contest next month. This will be the first time New Zealand will be represented at the controversial beauty pageant which is now in its 10th year. Over the years, the participants and organisers of Miss Pakistan World have attracted death threats.
Maria Mughal, an AUT Business School student, will fly to Toronto in Canada to participate in the pageant, which has never been held in Pakistan since its launch. The winner of the title will represent Pakistan in Miss Earth contest.
Like most girls her age, you will generally hear her talking about “the latest gadgets, and Korean pop and fashion trends,” as she puts it, but probe a little deeper, and you will come across a determined young woman not willing to limit her horizons by her complex upbringing.
Born in Kashmir in Pakistan, the 23-year old came to New Zealand with her parents when she was three years old, and struggled to find a balance between her Pakistan and New Zealand values – something that she felt a strong desire to disprove.
“Overcoming this polarity has made me the humble person that I am today,” says the South Auckland-raised girl, in an interview to The Global Indian magazine.
“The scars of my upbringing (are serving as) a reminder of what I would want to change if I had the power to do so.
“I’d like to show that I have found a balance between my Pakistani background and my western life.”
The pageant means “a new start in my life as a confident person”.
“I found it hard mentally, as a young person, to take upon the stress of my family issues,” says Maria.
“I found support within counselling services at school, to persevere through tough times and finish school.
Maria wants to support causes that help young women like her, that have difficult family backgrounds and would not get an equal chance to push for their dreams.
She has found value in discovering her roots.
“I have chosen to continue to learn about my heritage and still speak my mother tongue at home.”
She can read Arabic, and speak a mix of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.
“I feel that if you don’t know where you come from, you won’t know who you are; it’s all about finding my identity.”
Maria is very close to her siblings – she is the eldest girl and has seven siblings. She takes her elderly role seriously. “I am constantly pushing them to dream big.”
Initially pursuing a bachelor of science, majoring in sports and exercise science and psychology, she took a break from study and worked in the fitness industry which gave her an opportunity to try her hands at marketing.
“With work experience behind me I changed to a business degree, and I am aiming to be back in the workforce early next year.”
If she won the title, she desires to promote Shakti Asian Women’s Support Group.
“They work with women to teach them what their rights (are), advocate for them and provide support when there is no one.”
Rachel Field, Maria’s friend, wants Maria’s story to show how “New Zealand’s multiculturalism has supported her to be proud of who she is and where she is from. That she would not have been able to do as much as she has in New Zealand as compared to growing up in Pakistan.”
Earlier in 2010, the winner of the pageant, Annie Rupani, known as “Ramadan Queen,” as she was crowned in the month of Ramadan, and the organisers of the event attracted extensive media coverage on the backdrop of massive floods in Pakistan that year.
The winner of Miss Pakistan World title joined her father at the Rupani Foundation to create jobs, promote equity, and reduce poverty in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, particularly for women.
Annie came under criticism a year later for her vocal support of Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress who participated in an Indian Television show, Bigg Boss (an Indian version of reality show Big Brother).
In the early years of the pageant, fanatic groups and conservative people were against the beauty parade.
The idea of a beauty queen for Pakistan and a female representation of Pakistan was not well digested by the extremists, says Sonia Ahmad, the organiser of Miss Pakistan World title, who has received many threats over these years.
“From hate mail to threats over the phone, and long emails where Islam was explained to us, various forms and methods were used to make us stop. But I went head strong with all of them!” says Sonia in an interview to The Global Indian.
The beauty contest is funded by moderate Pakistanis and the South Asian community. Sonia hopes to use the pageant to showcase the lighter side of Pakistan.
“Pakistan needs to change and to do so, the people have to accept Miss Pakistan World as the only platform where Pakistani women can be patriotic, bold and strong!”