Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami party has strongly criticized it, while Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar has called for an investigation. Pakistani men, in particular, have expressed their outrage online. But what exactly has caused such a reaction?
At the center of the controversy is Erica Robin, a 24-year-old Christian woman from Karachi, who has been chosen to represent conservative Pakistan in the upcoming Miss Universe beauty pageant.
Ms. Robin emerged as the winner of the Miss Universe Pakistan competition, which took place in the Maldives. The event was organized by Yugen Group, a Dubai-based company that holds the franchise rights to Miss Universe Bahrain and Miss Universe Egypt. The competition received a significant number of applications, according to the organizers.
The Miss Universe finals are scheduled to be held in El Salvador in November.
Backlash and support
Representing Pakistan brings me immense joy, but I find it perplexing to comprehend the backlash I am facing. It seems to be rooted in the misconception that I would be parading in a swimsuit in front of a room full of men,” Ms Robin expressed to the BBC.Erica Robin
Critics of her nomination argue that she is representing a country that supposedly does not desire representation, particularly because beauty pageants are infrequent in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
One of the most widely recognized pageants for women of Pakistani descent worldwide is Miss Pakistan World. This pageant, which originated in Toronto in 2002, relocated to Lahore in 2020. Additionally, the competition has spawned various spin-offs such as Miss Pakistan Universal, Mrs Pakistan Universal, and even Miss Trans Pakistan.
Throughout the competition’s 72-year history, Pakistan has never put forth a representative for Miss Universe.
Reflecting on the second selection round of the pageant, which took place over Zoom, Ms Robin recounted being asked what one thing she would like to do for her country. “I replied that I would like to challenge the perception that Pakistan is a backward nation,” she shared.
This endeavor may prove challenging, given the hostile responses to her nomination.
Nevertheless, models, writers, and journalists alike have all extended their congratulations to Ms Robin. Journalist Mariana Babar praised her “beauty and brains” on X, previously known as Twitter.
Pakistani model Vaneeza Ahmed, who initially encouraged Ms Robin to pursue modeling, expressed to Voice of America Urdu, “If these men are accepting of international competitions like ‘Mister Pakistan,’ why do they have an issue with a woman’s accomplishment?
From rock and roll to Islamic Republic
From rock and roll to Islamic Republic: Pakistan’s Contradictions”According to Karachi-based writer and commentator Rafay Mehmood, Pakistan is a nation of many contradictions, with women and marginalized groups often being at the center of controversy.
He believes that Pakistan’s authoritarian nature contributes to the reinforcement of harsh patriarchal values, both institutionally and socially. Erica Robin’s recent experiences and the policing she has faced are seen as an extension of this prevailing mindset.
However, there is evidence of a more liberal Pakistan in the past. Archived copies of the Dawn newspaper from the 1950s to the late 1970s reveal advertisements for cabaret shows and performances by foreign belly dancers at a club near downtown Karachi’s former Elphinstone Street.
These nightclubs were frequented by a diverse crowd of activists, diplomats, politicians, air hostesses, and young people. The historic Metropole Hotel in Karachi was also a popular venue for singing and jazz performances.
The shift towards a more conservative Pakistan came in 1973, when the country’s parliament established a constitution declaring it an Islamic Republic, with Islam as the state religion. This transition was followed by military leader General Zia ul-Haq’s overthrow of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1977.
The subsequent decade witnessed the enforcement of Islamic law and significant societal changes, often described as a “draconian phase” by activists and lawyers. General Zia even reintroduced public flogging as a demonstration of his commitment to Islamic law.
Today, the vibrant nightclubs and bars of the past have vanished, and the Metropole Hotel stands on the brink of collapse. Nearby, an abandoned skeletal structure was once intended to be a casino. Despite these changes, the desire for a freer and more tolerant Pakistan persists, with individuals like Erica Robin pushing the boundaries of societal acceptance.
Erica, a graduate of St Patrick’s High School and Government College of Commerce and Economics, firmly believes that she has done nothing wrong in representing Pakistan on a global platform. Her aim is to challenge stereotypes and promote a more nuanced understanding of her country.