Miss Earth SA Gives Young Women a Voice

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In 2003 Catherine Constantinides was the first Miss Earth South Africa. Attending this beauty pageant with a difference was a turning point in her life. Miss Earth was started in 2001 as an international environmental event that aimed to channel the beauty pageant entertainment industry towards actively promoting the preservation of the environment

Catherine now runs a two-prong educational programme sharing the message of protecting the earth, which is aimed at the young women who participate annually in the Miss Earth South Africa programme. They are taught to be ambassadors for the environment as they go into schools in their communities to share the vital message of how to tread lightly on the planet. The focus in 2016 is “Waste stops with me!” This includes examining food waste, water and energy usage, and how to reduce rubbish. The young women between the ages of 18 and 26 go into schools as environmental ambassadors, spreading a green consciousness, teaching children what they can do as individuals to make a difference.

Those who enter the programme as applicants are judged on the service projects they do in the schools in their communities. They are assessed on how effectively they motivate their community in terms of social and environmental development.

Catherine’s unique career choice has led her to be an international climate activist, social entrepreneur and food security advocate. Her experience as Miss Earth South Africa opened doors, enabling her to work throughout Africa and across the world championing human rights issues and empowering women.

She has been recognised as a voice for young South Africans, with an Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Fellowship award, a State Award, the Ubuntu Youth Award for Diplomacy, and most recently the Mandela Washington Fellowship. She is committed to ensuring that the continent is included in global conversations regarding the development of Africa and improving the lives of the broader community.

Fetola staffer, Anelia de Waal, interviewed her.

You seem to have quite a keen awareness for environmentalism. Is that what ultimately motivated you to start Generation Earth? Did you start it on your own?

My sister, Ella Bella, and I started Generation Earth together. Our joint vision is to give young people a platform to share their views and concerns. We want to promote their growth as critical thinkers and role players in the future economy. We challenge young people to seek solutions to the problems they encounter by being active in their communities and schools. We believe young women can be instrumental in bringing about social change and hope they will adopt the environmental messages we carry.

I consider myself blessed to have been able to grow a dream into a business. For me, environmental activism is a way of life. Additionally, it’s fundamental that we re-look at the way we do things. We need business models that are sustainable, that don’t harm the environment. We need to take into account people, planet and profit. Because business is key to our economy, we need operations that build without pillaging.

There is usually a very particular imagery associated with pageantry. How has Miss Earth SA moved beyond that?

Women involved in Miss Earth learn about constructive activism, and being conscious consumers with a green mindset. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman being proud of who she is, embodying feminism, engaging with important issues and addresses them. Miss Earth SA is not seeking women who are 1,8 metres tall, wearing a size 8. We cherish and encourage the development of a healthy self-image, and balanced emotional intelligence. Part of fostering their well-being is instilling them with confidence and knowledge.

We share the environmental message and educate the young women who enter Miss Earth SA. It is important that they understand the great role they need to fulfil in society, both on the home front and at work. Miss Earth SA helps to create a platform for activism, and open doors for women’s futures.

Miss Earth South Africa is not a pageant but a programme, empowering girls to become influential women. They learn about the environment and climate change; they gain business skills and concepts to apply as they approach careers. They also learn that it’s their right to be beautiful and glamorous, and to embrace and celebrate that!

Follow Catherine on Twitter (@ChangeAgentSA) and Facebook (@CatherineConstantinides) and follow Ella Bella on Twitter (@EllaBellaC).

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AneliaAnelia de Waal is a Media Intern at Fetola and achieved an honours degree in Social Anthropology in 2015. For her final project, Anelia worked with graffiti artists in Woodstock in order to understand how city policies influence the movement of people, and how people reclaim cities through meaningful and subversive action. In her spare time, Anelia volunteers at Soil for Life, grows her own vegetables, takes photographs and makes wooden things. Follow Anelia (@LadyRedBeard).