Natasha Paracha from Islamabad has been crowned the new Miss Pakistan World in an annual beauty pageant which, according to its founder, would enable Pakistani women "to stand up for change and progression" in a society that frowns on such events on its soil.
The 23-year-old graduate from the University of California at Berkeley replaces Mahleej Sarkari who created quite a stir last month when she called Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf a hunk and expressed a desire to date him.
At the sixth annual beauty pageant at the weekend in Toronto, the gorgeous Paracha beat a bevy of Pakistani beauties to win the crown. She will now represent Pakistan at various international beauty pageants.
Paracha, who is currently living in New York, founded the Pakistani Student Association at UC Berkley and later a non-profit Vision of Development which works for the uplift of women in rural Pakistan.
After her crowning, she said her goal over the next year is not only to represent Pakistan at beauty pageants but also raise awareness that 51 million Pakistanis do not have access to medical care.
Tahira Iqbal from Lahore, Nosheen Idrees from Jhelum, Binish Zaidi from Karachi and Samera Bilal from Gujrat (in Pakistan) were declared runners-up at the event.
Iqbal was crowned Sherwood Miss Congeniality, Zaidi as Miss Smooth Skin and Miss Talent, Bilal as Miss Perfect Ten, and Mehvish Sheikh from Lahore was chosen Vimi Spa Miss Photogenic.
The pageant brought young Pakistani women from around the world to compete for the crown, which many view as anti-Islamic and an insult to Muslim women.
"Pakistan's slow changing movement to liberate its women forbids such events from taking place on its soil. Thus, women who want to stand up for change and progression have no choice but make a trip to Canada to compete," said pageant founder Sonia Ahmed.
"The event focuses on beauty, talent and cultural strength while allowing these young women to feel a part of the mainstream instead of being ostracised by the western world," she said.
"Pakistani women have always been forced to stay in the background. They have never had the opportunities to have their voice heard and stand for what they believe in. It was only after living in Canada that I realised that women really do have the power to make a difference and make a change," Ahmed added.
Indo-Asian News Service