Around the world right now, young people are raising their voices for justice, equity, and equality. They are demanding an end to human rights abuses, discrimination, and poverty.
Young women, in particular, are insisting on being recognised for their potential and power, as well as their achievements as activists and trail-blazers.
On June 16, South Africa commemorates Youth Day; a reminder that the right to freedom came at a heavy cost in the country.
It was on June 16 in 1976 that thousands of school children marched in the streets of Soweto, Johannesburg, to demand quality education for Black people, which included not being forced to be taught in Afrikaans.
The protests spread from Soweto to other parts of the country.
The protests are said to have changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Yet it has been 44 years since the historic day and South Africa is still an unequal society.
Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi, formerly Miss South Africa, wants to use her reign and the doors it has opened for her to help address some of these inequalities, especially in education.
She’ll be making an appearance on the official Miss Universe Instagram on June 16 for a live conversation with Zulaikha Patel, who launched her activism when she was just 13 years old by confronting her high school’s anti-black hair policy in 2016.
They’ll be talking about youth activism and driving change. Here, Tunzi tells Global Citizen about using her platform to advocate for education and gender equality.
What are some of the experiences that influenced you to champion girls’ and women's rights?
Growing up in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa, there were differences between what boys and girls could do, and there were definitely differences in roles that men and women played in societies.
The differences were one thing, but the value and importance placed on these roles was what bothered me the most. I definitely remember growing up hearing things like “don’t act like that or you will never find a husband.”
Most of the time, the roles of women were to follow and be somewhere in the background away from any positions of leadership. I wondered as a young girl why that was the case.
Why is it so important to you to use your platform and the access that comes with it to help rewrite the narrative of what it means to be a girl or young women in a continent rife with barriers like period poverty and child marriage?
I watched the news and read about neighbouring countries who didn’t allow girls to go to school. I read about countries that practiced female circumcisions under the reasoning that women should only be sexually active for bearing babies and not for pleasure, and also for preservation of their virginity and many other reasons.
All of the things I have seen and heard about have influenced me to want to champion girls and women’s rights. Awareness is a very important part of social change. The louder we scream about social issues the more the world cannot continue to ignore us.
As someone who has a large number of followers and a voice that people are willing to listen to, I feel it is my responsibility to use my platform and voice wisely and responsibly to help fight social injustice.
I need for the world to know what women and young girls go through. I need them to know how unfair it is to still be living in a world where young girls have to fight for a right to get an education and a right to not be married off. To even fight for the right to be alive.
If we continue to turn a blind eye and pretend like nothing is happening, change will never happen. And for that reason, I will continue to shine a light on these issues and make as much noise as I can until the right people listen and until change happens.
What’s going to be the legacy of your reign?
When I think of the legacy of my reign, I wish for a reign that has impact even in years to come. When I was young, I never dreamt of being Miss Universe because it was something I believed to be unattainable for me. I was a young black girl in a village and small town in South Africa, I did not recognise myself in a lot of people in prominent places.
That is not the reality [I] want for generations to come.
I want them to open up a magazine and [watch] TV, see me and say, “I am her; she is me. Because Zozibini is where she is, I can be there too, and I can be so much more.”
That is what I want my legacy to be. One where nothing is impossible because of where you were born or how you look.
The Miss Universe platform has always had a large following and fanbase across the globe. I’ve always had a voice as an individual, then my voice got amplified within South Africa through Miss South Africa, and now through Miss Universe my voice can reach every corner of the world.