EDITED BY KALAHAN DENG
Maria Toorpakai grew up in Waziristan, which she calls one of the “most dangerous places on earth.”
Home to the Taliban, it is a place where girls often don’t go to school and extremists denounce women’s sports for being un-Islamic.
“I could feel that girls are not equally treated as boys. They are enslaved,” Toorpakai, who left Pakistan for a new life in Canada.
Her childhood was different from that of other girls. She wanted to prove that women could do anything. When she was four years old, she decided to burn all her girly clothes, cut her hair and dress like her brothers to maintain her freedom.
“My father started laughing and said: ‘From now on your name is Changez Khan,'” the 25-year-old says, referring to Genghis Khan, one of the greatest warriors in history.
Toorpakai’s father, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir, is a tribal elder and comes from a large, prominent political family in South Waziristan.
Although he belongs to an extremely conservative tribal society, his daughter says he has always been a strong advocate for equal rights and opportunities for women.
“My father is really progressive,” Toorpakai says. “He raised my brothers and us equally as sons and daughters come from the same womb.
“He educated my mum, supported my sister to become the prominent Pakistani politician she is today and helped me to become a professional squash player.”