It was apparently a first for Iraq: Dohuk’s Association of Short Statured People held a beauty contest for the much smaller women in the province. Well attended by all walks of Dohuk society, the contest featured five entrants competing for the title of Miss Petite Dohuk. The eventual winner was 25-year-old Shayan Hassan, who is 129cm tall and weighs 35 kilograms, and who won when she managed to get almost half of the public there vote for her. Hassan, who works in the local Department of Health thanks to a quota for special needs individuals, is also one of the original originators of the contest. NIQASH spoke to her about the kinds of problems very short people have in Iraq and how she has overcome them.
NIQASH: How did this contest come about?
Shayan Hassan: I submitted an idea to the head of Association of Short Statured People and he was very enthusiastic. He also helped to encourage more contestants to take part.
NIQASH: How did your family react when you entered a beauty contest? After all, it’s hardly usual in Iraq.
Hassan: At the beginning, I was a little embarrassed. But my family was very encouraging, especially my father. My friends in the association were also very encouraging.
NIQASH: And why do you think you won?
Hassan: I think that, although there were others who were taller than me, my height and weight mean I am quite balanced. It was a lovely feeling to win. I started crying.
NIQASH: Beauty queens usually do charity work too. Are you planning anything like this?
Hassan: I like the idea of working on charities where one can help children or people with special needs. I’d also really like to make more people aware of the plight of short people and their suffering. I want to encourage them to leave their homes, to mix with people and to abandon their fear of being taunted and of being given strange looks. I’m hoping that the local government and civil society organisations can help us with this. The Association of Short Statured People has suggested the idea to some local companies and we’re hoping to get some support from them too.
NIQASH: What kinds of problems do short people face in Iraq?
Hassan: In the past I used to be so embarrassed going to school. My fellow students would look at me strangely and I always wished desperately to be a bit taller. But I’ve accepted who I am and I’ve learnt to deal with being short. In Iraq’s cities people have started to accept short people but in many rural areas and in villages, they still see us as abnormal. I really hope that this will change some day.
NIQASH: You have your job through a special quota. Do little people have problems getting employment in Iraq?
Hassan: That’s one of the biggest problems for Iraq’s little people. People make fun of them and laugh, especially out in the rural areas. There’s also a lack of suitable facilities at Iraqi schools so a lot of them just don’t complete their education. The Association is trying to change that by getting little people some rights in the law. Now they receive monthly wages and they get free health care.
In Iraq, the majority of little people simply live inside their homes and they rarely go out on the streets. They get a lot of harassment when they do. It’s also very hard to get a driving license, which one needs in Iraq, or a car that suits a little person’s needs. It’s also really hard to get married. Little women usually marry little men. It\'s very rare to find them married to ordinary sized people. In Dohuk, six little people got married and the local government gave them IQD6 million (around US$5,000) to support them. But getting married is very difficult for little people.
NIQASH: So there is a lot of discrimination?
Hassan: Oh yes. Some little people with strong personalities may be seen on television or doing charity work. But really most of them are prisoners in their own homes because of the way people harass them and look at them when they do go out on the street. Iraq is still a relatively conservative society.
NIQASH: Winning this competition must be a step in this direction?
Hassan: Yes, I felt as though I somehow overcame this other person who lives inside me. That person was afraid to face society and to stand in front of a camera or an audience. I used to be afraid of the way people looked at me and how they whispered when they saw me. But when I stood at the front of that theatre I felt so confident – especially when I heard the audience saying nice things about me. I have come to realise that I can play a useful and productive role in my own society.