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It is a great pleasure to be standing here today as the first Regional Champion for UNFPA.

The goals and targets of UNFPA are very close to my heart. As a girl growing up in Ha-Masia village in the Vhembe District, I witnessed first hand some of the struggles faced by many women and young people in under-developed regions across southern Africa.

These challenges include major social issues such as lack of access to health resources, the scourge of gender-based violence, gender inequality, and lack of reproductive health and rights.

So, when I was blessed to win the title of Miss South Africa in 2020, I knew I wanted to use the platform to create long-lasting change.

My first priority was to create awareness and encourage discussion around mental health issues – especially bullying. This gave rise to my book, ‘Shudu finds her magic’, which tackled the very real problem of bullying in schools. I’m proud to say that it has become one of the highest-selling children’s books in South Africa, and over 10,000 copies have been donated to various primary schools.

Now, in my new role as UNFPA Regional Champion, I look forward to expanding my work, to help make the world a safer - and better - place for women and girls.

I’d like to take a few moments to outline some of the issues I will be championing.

Firstly, let’s begin with gender-based violence, or GBV.

Violence against women and girls can and does occur everywhere. I saw it in my  village, and that’s why I say, we must end it in all its forms, wherever it takes place, whether online, in the intimacy of one’s home, or as a weapon of war. Did you know that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime globally? This is simply unacceptable.

Just like physical and sexual violence, online violence is real, and it is a violation of a person’s human rights. Women and girls are usually the target. It is highly sexualised, and can range from harassment to blackmail or exploitation. As we saw in the Bodyright video, virtual violence can cause long-term psychosocial distress, a loss of reputation, mental anguish and, in some cases, even lead to suicide.

Most importantly, virtual violence often leads to physical and sexual violence, and so it needs to be eliminated in all its forms. This is why we must push policymakers to criminalise the abuse of people’s images online. And we must encourage technology companies to put in place effective systems that moderate and report it.

Women and girls have human rights, including the right to live free from online violence, and sexual and gender-based violence. To enjoy these rights, they need to know exactly what they are, and where to seek support if they are violated.

This brings us to the importance of empowering people with information. Whether it is information about mental health, bullying, gender-based violence, or sexual and reproductive health, knowledge is power. It can change lives and build healthy communities.

As well as information, women and girls need access to the full range of services - not just psychosocial support and the support of the justice system - but access to sexual and reproductive health services. Women and girls with access to family planning information and services have greater control over their bodies and their future, enabling them to contribute to healthier families and more resilient communities.

Because women and girls must be empowered with rights and choices, if they are to realise their full potential.

As I conclude, I would like to pay tribute to all our mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, who fought to make sure we get opportunities in life, despite any difficulties they may have faced.

In particular, I’d like to mention my grandmother, Gugu – the person who had the greatest influence on my life. She had no formal schooling, and couldn’t read or write, but she knew what was important in life. I hope that she passed down that wisdom to me.

I read a beautiful quote that said ‘The legacy you leave behind are the lives you touch’, and that’s exactly what I intend to do, as UNFPA Regional Champion.

As such, I pledge to work tirelessly with UNFPA to spread a positive message of hope and empowerment to our women, men, girls and boys.

The challenges we face are daunting and the path ahead may not be easy, but it is important, and I am ready for the task. I hope that I’ll be able to play a small role in finding the right solutions, and trust that I can count on your support along the way. After all, we’re in this together.