A UTM student is competing for Miss World Canada, the preliminary competition leading to the Miss World pageant.

Asma (Zohal) Hassan is an Afghan-Canadian undergraduate student at UTM who is pursuing a double major in Art History and English.

“My main objective in life is to be able to assist those who lack these fundamental opportunities [peace, social security, education] and are going through similar challenges in life,” she said.

Born in the midst of a civil war, Hassan grew up in a family that went through poverty, homelessness, and social insecurity before moving to Canada.

Due to its global platform, Hassan believes that Miss World Canada will “empower [her] to achieve [her] goals and establish even bigger projects in the future […] to make a difference in people’s lives”.

Miss World Canada is closely associated with the charity Beauty with a Purpose. The pageant’s website says it allows delegates to develop leadership skills by hosting fundraisers through its partnerships. Hassan and the other 2015 delegates are working with a charity called Variety, which aims to help children with special needs.

Hassan said she feels privileged and believes others shouldn’t have to fight for basic necessities such as security, education, and shelter.

She also said she wants to put the spotlight on Afghanistan.

“When people hear about Afghanistan, all they can think about is war and poverty, but that isn’t the [essence] of Afghanistan and it has so much more to offer,” she said.

Hassan said she faces many challenges due to prejudice against her heritage. Being a Muslim Afghan woman, Hassan receives mixed comments on her Facebook page.

“There’s a group of Muslims and Afghans who are like that [extremists] and then there’s the really supportive Muslims and Afghans, and that includes my family,” she said.

Hassan also expressed her dislike for negative views toward beauty pageants, and said that it has affected fundraisers that she runs for Variety, with people have telling her that that it is ridiculous to raise money in the name of a beauty pageant.

“People forget that Miss World pageant isn’t just a beauty pageant. We’ve raised millions of pounds for charity and so many of the delegates are beautiful, intelligent woman,” said Hassan.

Last year’s Miss World was awarded to a fourth-year medical student whom Hassan believes sets an example. “Miss World is not some silly pageant; it’s an important institute for humanitarian causes. Miss World Canada 2014 would not have delayed her studies […] if the pageant was […] silly,” Hassan said.

Voting is currently underway for Miss World Canada. The winner will be crowned in May.

This article has been corrected from the print edition. The competition won by the medical student last year was Miss World, not Miss World Canada.