The new Miss Universe wears her crown around the world in hopes of inspiring and empowering women. And along the way, she's knocking down the critics of the Miss Universe pageant.
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who hails from South Africa and was crowned on Sunday night, believes that beauty pageants like Miss Universe are more relevant than ever.
"I see this as a platform that I have to make a significant difference in the lives of women and men," she told HuffPost on Wednesday in New York in Build Series (the talk show is part of Oath, HuffPost's parent company). “I had the opportunity to be a role model for women and men around the world. And I had this opportunity to be a role model for young girls. For me, this is a great honor, but it is an even greater responsibility ”.
Nel-Peters said that she is ready to take on that responsibility for the next year, especially now that she is armed with a plan to help empower women. It all dates back to June, when he was heading to an event in his home country. In "broad daylight," Nel-Peters said, three men robbed her and held her at gunpoint.
"When I got out of the car … they tried to push me back to the car," he recalled, saying that three guns were pointed directly at his face. “And that's when I decided that… the second destination would probably be no better than the first. So, I made a decision there. I took a course [self-defense] before that happened, which taught me to think and keep a clear mind in a situation like that. And the only thing they told me was that if you are in a life threatening situation like me, the throat is a very sensitive place that you can hit and that is something that can put someone off completely. So, I punched the guy in the throat as hard as I could and gave him a chance to escape. "
Although he managed to escape, Nel-Peters said he felt the effects of the attack for months. During that time, however, she also felt something else: the need to help other women.
“My phone was stolen throughout the carjacking and when I got a new phone and logged into my Instagram account, more than 2,000 messages from South African women,” she said.
All the women asked the same thing: What was the self-defense course you took and where can I take it?
Soon after, Nel-Peters created the Unbreakable campaign, where she teams up with self-defense experts to educate and train women in South Africa on how to handle threats. . situations, including sexual harassment and assault.
"I believe that violence against women … is something so great that women face all over the world," she said, adding: "I have heard many women tell me their stories that they are too embarrassed to stand up and talk about it because they feel they did something wrong. And actually, they didn't. A woman should be able to be who and what she wants to be and should be respected for that ”.
During her one-year reign, Nel-Peters plans to make her Unbreakable campaign a global campaign, trying to show critics that Miss Universe is more than just a pretty face. .
See the full Build Series interview below.