U of T grad Tahmena Bokhari won the 2010 Mrs. Pakistan World pageant. U of T grad Tahmena Bokhari won the 2010 Mrs. Pakistan World pageant. Alex Nursall

Move over, Miss America. U of T graduate and lecturer Tahmena Bokhari has proven that beauty and brains can coexist when she won the title of Mrs. Pakistan World 2010 at the end of December. She has become the fourth married woman to represent Pakistan with the international title.

As Mrs. Pakistan, Bokhari will assume an ambassadorial role of raising Pakistan’s profile on the international stage and aiding women in local South Asian communities. While she says she felt “surprised and honoured” by her win, Bokhari quickly points out that she is “not a typical beauty queen and it isn’t a typical pageant. It’s very political.” Contestants are judged not only on looks, but on their ability to field questions about Pakistan’s international relations and how they would alleviate the country’s domestic problems, such as poverty and terrorism.

Born in Toronto, Bokhari spent her childhood in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where she was “was very much a tomboy.” She has been involved with social justice issues since her youth, citing her grandmother, who started a girls’ school in Pakistan, as her greatest influence. She graduated from U of T with a Master’s in Social Work after completing her undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies, which galvanized her interests in feminism and social work in the immigrant communities.

Bokhari became involved with the Mrs. Pakistan pageant as a means to reach a larger audience. “Working in the women’s sector helped to aid women who had already experienced abuse,” she explained. “The audience I wanted to reach, Pakistani women, did not associate themselves with feminism or shelters. I also wanted to reach men. I felt that the pageant was a great fit for me because it would give me the platform to speak about issues I am passionate about and to appeal to audiences in a non-threatening way.”

Bokhari has many goals she hopes to accomplish during her term. Currently, she is planning an event for International Women’s Day on March 27. Her main message to young women is to avoid pigeon-holing themselves.

“By having someone who looks like me out there, I think women can relate,” she said. “By saying I’m Pakistani, Muslim, a professor, a feminist, and a beauty queen, I want women to understand that they can be some or all these things without compromising any of those identities.”

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