Maria Toorpakai Wazir is our Woman of Substance for more reasons than we can count! She is a professional Pakistani squash player and an advocate for women’s rights. Toorpakai was raised in South Waziristan, (one of Pakistan’s tribal regions dominated by the Taliban), by feminist Muslim parents and allowed to dress up as a boy by age 4. Under the guidance of her father, Toorpakai began competing as a boy in weightlifting competitions under the name Genghis Khan and soon took up squash.
In 2006, Toorpakai turned professional and the truth of her gender leaked out, leading to relentless death threats from the Taliban. She locked herself in her home for three and half years until she was accepted to train in Toronto in 2011, and by the next year was ranked as Pakistan’s top female squash player.
Maria Toorpakai is the founder of the Maria Toorpakai Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to building peaceful communities and gender equity by investing in education, sports, and health care programs for young girls and boys in remote regions of the world. In May 2016, she published her memoir, A Different Kind Of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight.
Maria Toorpakai Wazir is one of those women who achieved the title of ‘Top ranked squash player’ in a region where girls aren’t even familiar with the game. She disguised herself as a boy to play! She was different, braver than others and born to a father who believed in equal rights. Hence she burned all her clothes at the age of four and participated in athletic activities as a boy. How difficult was the struggle and how she overcame all barriers set by society? We asked Maria these questions and this is what she had to say:
What does Women’s Day mean to you?
Acknowledging and honoring women’s crucial role in our society! It reminds us that the world is not complete without the contribution of women and that the world can’t progress and prosper without active participation of more than half of the world’s population. It also reminds us of the bitter challenges women face in patriarchal societies such as; marriages at early ages/ forced marriages, discrimination, no access to quality education, healthcare, sports, discrimination in decision making and employment & wages, sexual harassment, denial of inheritance rights as well as the many anti-human customs of dowry & Swara*Child marriage).
“March 8th. reminds the women worldwide to stand strong for their rights & dignity, stay united & be determined to make a difference to world peace, progress & prosperity.”
One thing Western women can teach Asian women. (Or vice versa).
Western women have gotten their current freedom, rights & dignity in their society after their long struggle. Today they successfully manage their households & professional work simultaneously. They have come out of the dark ages & have strong vocal representation in their countries. Our Asian women are now going through this same evolution right now. They can learn a lot from Western women movements for Change.
“Our Asian women can also follow in the footsteps of the western revolution which has today produced many successful women CEOs of big companies, scientists, heads of States, athletes, educationists & researchers”.
Your female role model in current times.
We cannot have one role model today. Today’s world is full of intelligent & brave women like Queen Elizabeth, Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel , Melania Trump, Theresa May, Hilary Clinton, Billie Jean King, Jane Goodall, Mother Theresa , Princess Diana, Jacinda Ardern, Angelina Jolie, Christiana Lagarde, Melinda Gates, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan , Ibtihaj Muhammad, Serena Williams, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jhangir, Malala Yusafzia, Greta Thunber, Muniba Mazari, Mary Kom, Laila Ali, Oprah Winfrey & Margaret Thatcher & many more.
One hardship you faced in your path to success.
One thing you would do, if you were a man for a day.
Although it depends on which position & role I am in but in general terms I would play my role to spread awareness about giving respect & due rights to women while demonstrating it through my own actions. Thanking women & acknowledging their strong role not only as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives but also their contribution to our country’s stability & economic prosperity. As a man, I would stand side by side in support of those strong & courageous women who not only fought for their rights but led others on the road to enlightenment.
One thing we can teach Pakistani men.
Fill in the blanks
A woman’s place is in ——-
A woman’s place is in both a household and a country’s educational & economic leadership, social & business space.
A song that describes you best
Songs on Rumi & Iqbal’s poetry best describes me.
Icons such as Maria Toorpakai Wazir serve as a reminder that nothing is beyond our reach. All it takes is true grit, determination, and a strong will to BELIEVE – the rest will follow.
Information source: Oslo Freedom Forum