Girls and women across the world gained a rights advocate when Zozibini Tunzi — formerly Miss South Africa — was crowned Miss Universe in November 2019.
When asked during a Q&A session of the pageant what the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is, Tunzi replied: “I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership.”
Her answer even prompted a response from Oprah Winfrey herself, who tweeted her congratulations to Tunzi and said she agreed with her about leadership.
Raising girls to become leaders will help them advocate for gender equality, says the United Nations’ Girl Up, while leadership skills equip girls with the confidence to have autonomy over their lives.
Tunzi added: “[Leadership] is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, not because we don't want to, but because of what society has labelled women to be.”
Girls and women face extraordinary challenges globally, including the fact that 12 million girls are forced into child marriage annually; whileone in five girls and women aged between 15 and 49 experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Meanwhile, the UNFPA estimates that there were 295,000 maternal deaths globally in 2017, which is around 211 deaths per 100,000 births.
Girls also don’t have access to quality education. According to a 2018 report by the World Bank, 132 million girls between the ages of six and 17 globally are still not in school, meanwhile less than two thirds of girls in low-income countries complete primary school, and only one third of girls complete lower secondary school (up to the age of 15).
“I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity and that is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space, nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself,” Tunzi added.
Here are just some of the reasons Tunzi is such a champion for girls and women.
1. She supports partnerships for change
The UN's Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which together aim to end extreme poverty by 2030, call for the creation and promotion of partnerships that will help the world achieve the Global Goals. These goals include Goal 5, for gender equality.
Just over a month into her reign as Miss Universe, Tunzi attended a high-level meeting with UN Women.
The meeting was also attended by UN Women’s executive director and former deputy president of South Africa, Dr. Phumzil Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“I sat down with them [the UN Women team] in a meeting and told them about my passion for women and children and how I want to use my platform as Miss Universe to shed light on social issues that affect women and children,” Tunzi wrote on her Instagram.
“I told them that I want to do everything in my power and capacity to help out wherever and however I can. To use my voice and role responsibly” she added. “I am so excited for my year of reign, for the people I’m going to meet, and for the honour of having the opportunity and privilege to impact some lives.”
2. She uses her platform to champion access to education
Tunzi revealed during an interview with the Independent Online that she wants to build a school in her hometown of Tsolo, in the Eastern Cape.
In its investigations looking into the quality of education in South Africa, Amnesty International found that the Eastern Cape has poor and inadequate facilities.
The report notes that some schools in the province have collapsing and visibly unsafe buildings, and continue to lack safe sanitation. Some classrooms, meanwhile, are “extremely overcrowded”, while other schools lack important facilities such as libraries, sporting fields, and laboratories.
“I have seen the struggles learners go through to get a decent education,” said Tunzi. “Every year the Eastern Cape is seen as one of the worst performing provinces and this is due to a number of factors, infrastructure being one of them.”
She added: “Buildings and classrooms are crucial elements of learning environments. If learners do not have a roof under which they can learn we are already setting them up for failure. Every child deserves a chance at a brighter future and that is why building this school is so important to me.”
3. She’s a fierce and vocal supporter of cancelling gender roles
In her famous TED Talk turned essay, “We Should All Be Feminists”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes that we should be encouraging girls to be ambitious instead of aspiring for marriage.
This, Tunzi told the Voice of America, is another cause she is championing.
“I think we need to start honing that at a young age to say, 'Don't be scared of your power. You have a voice. Learn to use it, because one day it might change the world,'" she said.
Tunzi further told American radio show "Sway in the Morning" that she wants to inspire girls to break free from gender roles and stereotypes.
“Young boys are taught confidence and taking up space but we don’t do the same [for girls]," she said. "It needs to change, along with calling women names like 'aggressive' when they are powerful.”