“I feel it is an honor to be Mrs. Pakistan World 2013, and also that it gives me a wonderful opportunity to communicate what I feel defines the mature Pakistani woman of today, whilst trying my best to remove some of the stigma attached to such titles," said Lahore-born Farah Mahmood who was chosen as the new Mrs Pakistan in Toronto last month.
A fitness instructor who is mother of four children, Toronto-based Farah says she intends to use her new platform to espouse empowerment of Pakistani women. She spoke to newseastwest.com after her crowning.
Q: Tell us something about your background. How old were you when you left Pakistan?
A: I was born in Pakistan, and spent my early childhood there before leaving for the Middle East where my father worked as a doctor. I left Pakistan when I was about eight years old and am 36 years old.
Q: What attracted you to Mrs. Pakistan pageant? What was the response of your husband and children?
A: I am mother to four beautiful children and believe that life does not end after marriage. I am a passionate advocate of women's empowerment, and a firm supporter of education regardless of gender. In terms of my academic background, I have a first-class degree in English Literature. My passion for health and fitness led me to qualify to become a certified personal trainer here in Canada, and my interest in self-grooming and self-development drove my qualification as an image and lifestyle coach. Apart from this, I have in the past been responsible for the interior design of some large hotels.
Q: What does the winning of title mean for you?
A: I am a very patriotic person whose heart breaks on seeing the dreadful image of Pakistan being portrayed by the international media. I want to make sure that people understand that Pakistan is a wonderful country with its fair share of enlightened people. As I have already said, I am passionate about the plight of women, and I feel I would like to use my role to dispel misconceptions in the way Pakistani women are viewed - as weak, suppressed, sub-servient and having no voice. I also want to change the image of pageants as being merely about beauty. To me, it is about a lot more - it is about using the platform intelligently to make a difference in people's lives, and to present yourself, your country and the women of your country in a positive light. My whole immediate and extended family are supportive of everything I do.
Q: Do these beauty queens mean anything to Pakistani women in their home country?
A: It means recognition, and the responsibility that comes with it. I feel bound to use my role positively and effectively to make a difference in the areas I have identified earlier. Things are changing very rapidly in Pakistan, with more and more people recognizing the need for female role models on the international as well as national platforms. This will pave the way for the future empowerment and progression of women in Pakistan. Thus I feel that pageant winners are viewed more broad-mindedly than in the past.
Q: Most Pakistan men in the Pakistan diaspora here oppose these pageants? Why this mindset? What do you say to them?
A: This pageant is not just about physical beauty. It is an empowering process that helps women define who they are and how they can contribute. I believe that men should recognize the great benefit in making sure that women are empowered, not only the benefit to the women, but also to the men and society in general. For a very long time, Pakistani women have been subjected to a male-formulated code of conduct that is dressed up as Islamic, whereas its roots are actually in culture. I feel that women are realizing that this is the case, that women have been empowered by Islam since the start of Islam, and that a direction needs to be forged in which Pakistani women are equal partners with men in shaping the future of our country.
Q: Do you think Veena Malik represents the aspiration of most Pakistani women? Isn't she too modern for Pakistani women?
A: My personal values are different to that of Veena Malik, as will be the values of many Pakistani women different to me. However, I will never judge Veena Malik at all and wish her success, and hope that Pakistani women join me in this. I believe the word "modern" means different for different people and Pakistanis are all very different in values!