NYPost: Miss Universe Wants To Empower Women Around The World
In June 2017, three months after Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters became Miss South Africa, she was carjacked and held at gunpoint in broad daylight by five men attempting to kidnap her.
When one of the assailants tried to push Nel-Peters back into her car, she used a lesson learned in a women’s self-empowerment course and punched him in the throat, allowing her to flee.
“It was so traumatizing,” Nel-Peters, 22, said at her Post photo shoot on the streets of Manhattan. The incident inspired her to start Unbreakable, a series of workshops in her home country that encourages women to stand up for themselves.
“We empower women with skills and knowledge . . . for [dealing with] robberies, crime, violence against women, toxic relationships, anything in that line,” she said.
Since being crowned Miss Universe in November, she wants to take her movement global.
“I really hope to use this [Miss Universe] platform to empower women all over the world,” she said. “It’s a global issue.”
Nel-Peters’ campaign couldn’t be more timely in the #MeToo era, when powerful men are being called out for harassment and assault against women.
On Dec. 23, the Miss America organization announced that three of its executives, including its CEO, had resigned after their e-mails demeaning former pageant winners surfaced.
While Nel-Peters declined to comment on the Miss America scandal (Miss Universe is a separate organization and aligned with the Miss USA pageant), she did say: “Women have realized that if we stand together, and if we tackle that problem together, it’s so much easier than doing it by ourselves. It takes one brave woman to implement change and for other women to be able to follow that.”
The brunette beauty was born to be a leader. Growing up in the city of George, she wanted to become the president of South Africa.
“I was the deputy mayor of my hometown junior council [at 17],” Nel-Peters said. “I got pretty close, but I guess I can now be the queen of the universe!”
In high school, Nel-Peters — the daughter of an interior designer mom and an entrepreneur father — was an overachiever.
“I had to play for a soccer team, I had to be an athlete, I had to make straight As,” she said. “I was very hard on myself, and it paid off now.”
At 16, she was scouted by a modeling agency and soon started booking commercials and print shoots for beauty products and more. But that didn’t stop Nel-Peters from getting a bachelor’s degree in business management from North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
“I was scared that when I got into modeling I wouldn’t finish [college],” she said. “I enjoy [modeling] more because [of my studies] — I understood what the campaigns are about, the bigger picture.”
She credits part of her drive to her half-sister, Franje, 10, who was born without a cerebellum, leaving her completely disabled.
“I realized she will never be able to be on the Miss Universe stage, never be able to do a photo shoot, never be able to buy ice cream and eat it herself,” Nel-Peters said. “And that makes me want to do everything I do with a passion, with just twice as much effort so I can do it for her sake as well.”
Although she misses her family, she was excited to move to Midtown, where the Miss Universe Organization keeps an apartment for reigning winners. She’s roommates with Miss USA Kára McCullough, 26.
“It’s such a cosmopolitan city, and it’s so vibrant and the energy is amazing,” Nel-Peters said of NYC. “I had to learn how to fall asleep with all the noises outside cause I’m not used to that in South Africa!”
But New Yorkers shouldn’t line up to ask her on a date.
“I have three loves — two of them are Benji and Baxter, [my] four-legged, furry little friends,” she said, playing it coy about her romantic life. “The [other] one I’ll keep in the background.”