It’s possible that thanks to Steve Harvey’s epic fail announcing this year's winner, more people than ever are paying attention to Miss Universe. But as the Miss Columbia versus Miss Philippines debate continues to heat up, there’s one country missing from the conversation: Iraq.
For the first time since 1972, a woman has been crowned Miss Iraq.
What’s more, she’s a 20-year-old economics student that’s had to shake off death threats—as well as beauty pageant rivals—to earn her crown.
“I want to prove that the Iraqi woman has her own existence in society, she has her rights like men,” Shaima Qassem Abdulrahman shared with NBC News. “I am afraid of nothing, because I am confident that what I am doing is not wrong.”
Although the Iraqi pageant was supposed to serve as opportunity to “revive” the country after years of war, contestants still faced harsh backlash from conservative critics and death threats from terrorist organizations. Fifteen women dropped out of the competition--two of which claim to have received life-threatening phone calls.
But Shaima is standing tall with her crown, she says she hopes her win is a step in the right direction for her country and she hopes her win will “reflect the culture of Iraq.”
Just like many Iraqis, Shaima is no stranger to the violence brought to her country by ISIS. Two of her cousins were federal police officers, who were killed while fighting militants, and five of her fellow contestants were forced to find new homes last year after ISIS overran their hometowns.
Even though the stage's curtain has closed, Shaima has just stepped into a blinding spotlight--one that makes her a glaring target for organizations like ISIS. According to the Kuwait newspaper al-Watan, the beauty queen recently received a chilling phone call to join ISIS or run the risk of being kidnapped.
Despite the death threats, the very real danger, and the cultural adversity she has to overcome Shaima is determined to “continue forward despite any obstacles' and represent her country in Miss Universe 2016.