What would you tell the people who think Beauty Pageants are fake and unnecessary?
“I have had dear friends question my appeal to the pageantry world despite the stigma associated with these ‘beauty pageants’ and I would love to shed a different light on this experience as your support is essential to my journey. Although they are often criticized for the objectification of women and promoting patriarchal norms (and often rightly so), women have much more to gain living through pageant experiences despite these realities and are challenging and redefining these norms.”
Rita Houkayem was born and raised in Canada. She has competed in several Beauty Pageants, the most recent one being Miss Universe Canada. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rita for her Miss Universe Canada campaign, learning so many things from and about this beautiful, ambitious young lady.
Rita has amassed a Bachelors degree in International Development Studies, French and Political Science and later continued her studies and received her Master’s degree in International Affairs.
When asked about her views on education and what privileges did her degrees bestow upon her, Rita replied that she came from a household where her parents always supported her to do her best in school and helped her foster a deep love for learning. They encouraged her to always be curious and interested with what’s around her: “I would never miss school. I would never call in sick even if I were dying. I was a total happy nerd.”
She believes that quality education is a universal right and that no matter your financial status or background, it is one of the most promising tools for an opportunistic life and everyone should have access it.
Her education does not stop here, says Rita. She continues to grow with the world and take in as much knowledge as she could possibly grasp allowing her to thrive in life. However, she thinks that school systems are somehow unfair towards some students and that not only sitting in class for 10 years is enough to enrich a human being: “Stay updated by reading books, by listening to news, podcasts, ask questions, or even by emailing or messaging someone ‘Can I meet with you?’ It is important to stay stimulated and educated.”
After finishing her Master’s in International Relations first in Ottawa and then France, Rita was hired as a Development Consultant with the United Nations in France. There, she worked on helping develop sexuality education programs and projects focusing (as quoted from the recent UN report she helped publish) on equipping children and young people knowledge, skills,attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity;develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own wellbeing and that of others; and, understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
Teaching sexuality education is a fundamental right to all students and is the root solution to sexual and gender-based violence, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), bullying, gender inequality and so on. Schools are no longer spaces limited to the teaching of arithmetics, reading and writing but have become an impactful environment to soulcraft the next generation of changemakers.
Her high-quality work and intelligence landed her a job with the Canadian Government (which is her current job), supplying her with unparalleled experiences:
“I am constantly exposed to people from all cultures, religions and ideologies which is a gift to the soul, learning about all corners of the world, appreciating the world’s diversity, embracing people’s differences. Having worked for the United Nations and currently working for the Government of Canada, provided me with a larger purpose than simply serving my personal goals. Through my education, work and life experience, I identify myself as a global citizen. I can no longer just think about how can I make a better life for myself, you can start to visualize more clearly the possibility to reaching such a position in the future and creating a positive impact in people’s lives.”
Her participation in Miss Universe Canada (or previous pageants) is important to her, or any participant, as it boosts confidence, it roots for personal growth and creates impactful friendships and connections through the pageants.
“I define this experience as a competition with oneself and not against other women. You are working on yourself day and night to hone your public speaking skills, poise, self-confidence, organizational skills of developing a platform etc. while still balancing a career and other life priorities. Living with these women for weeks never felt like a competition but a sisterhood connected through the passion and desire to be a better person and make a difference.”
In her perspective pageantry is not just limited to that. With the help of this exposure, Rita says she is able to advocate for women empowerment, gender equality/equity and education rights while trying to raise awareness about humanitarian causes. She classifies as a Feminist, carrying a firm belief in her heart that everyone should classify as one.
“ A ‘Feminist’ is simply the belief that men and women should have access to the same opportunities in life. Men, just as much as women, must identify themselves as activists for equal rights and opportunities because they represent half of the world population. Educated, healthy, empowered girls and women are much happier and can give so much more to not only their families, but their community and their world. We all win.”
In addition to that, Rita has volunteered in many charities and NGOs since her younger days. She feels that being part of a community, a group, a team is way more rewarding than doing something on your own. This sense of belonging and wanting to give back is what stimulates her charity work and pushes her to connect better and do more with and for her society.
Her most recent work is with SOS Children’s Villages, which is the world’s largest charity for orphaned and abandoned children. They provide loving homes by offering a family environment for children who have no one. These children are nurtured by an SOS Mother who is from the local community and professionally trained to form family ties with each child through education, medical, family strengthening and outreach programs.
Rita is an ambassador to this organization and is trying to raise the most awareness possible. She has launched various community events in Toronto and Ottawa, school presentations and an online crowdfunding campaign in order to benefit SOS.
Throughout her participation in Miss Universe Canada, Rita is hoping to shed light on SOS Children’s Villages’ mission, raising funds that will mainly focus on the children’s education and provide them with necessary supplies in order to break this vicious cycle.
What would you like to say to the younger generation, the future generation?
“Never ever give up on your dreams even if all the odds are against you. Great things in life don’t come easy. You must work hard, build your future brick by brick to create a strong foundation. Follow your passion (not the money, the money will come) but even more so, find something that also gives you purpose, to make people’s lives better. Stand up for something you believe in and be part of the change you wish to see in the world. Stay educated, read and keep up with world issues and trends. Knowledge is power!!! Life is so much more exciting when you are connected to your community, giving back and always feeling supported. Invest your time in building genuine loving relationships with your community and it will be one of the most rewarding bonds in your life. Trust me. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Getting to know Rita briefly has created a clearer vision for me, what I’d like my future to look like. As a woman, as a Lebanese citizen, it brings me great pleasure to see what this young woman is capable of achieving, how educated she is and her mission in making this world a safer, more compassionate and kind place to live in all through education, awareness and even more kindness.
Rita will be needing your help to lock in a spot among the TOP 20 in the Miss Universe Canada 2018 and win People’s Choice Award.