As more countries walk on path of development, it is important to get the underprivileged ones along on the journey. Inequities in access to education and other necessities due to political and economic reasons have created a sharp divide.
Understanding that all governments and other institutes cannot be the only force working towards this, Indian women who have won beauty pageant are helping shift the burden. Putting their stage and spotlight to good use, these individuals are proving that small efforts contribute in tackling global challenges.
Here’s a look at such robust women who are walking the talk for change.
Actor Sushmita Sen, who was the first Indian to win Miss Universe crown, is well-known for her charity and social work. She heads I AM Foundation, an NGO that facilitates children with education and medical needs. Sushmita is also associated with Rouble Nagi Art Foundation which conducts art workshop for children across India.
Although she was just 18 when she won the title, in 1994, her path forward was unique.
A single mother of two adopted daughters, she has worked in Hindi, Tamil and Bengali language films. She was awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice by The Harmony Foundation in 2013.
Aishwarya Rai started modelling in her late teens, and won the Miss World pageant in 1994 when she was 20. Since then, she has taken to movies, and has acted in Bollywood as well as regional movies in India, along with occasional forays into Hollywood.
She has been ambassador Pulse Polio, a government initiative to give vaccine to children under age of five. The actor is also associated with UN event International Year of Microcredit, PETA India and Eye Bank Association and has pledged to donate her eyes as well. She is also the Goodwill Ambassador for Smile Train, a non-profit organisation that provides free surgeries for cleft lip.
In 2008, Aishwarya and her husband Abhishek Bachchan’s family opened a school for underprivileged girls in Daulatpur village in Uttar Pradesh. A Padma Shri winner, Aishwarya was honoured for her charitable work at the Miss World 2014 ceremony, held in London.
Actor Celina Jaitly, winner of Miss India and fourth runner up of Miss Universe pageant in 2001, is an ardent supporter of LGBTQIA+ community in India. The actor went on record to say that she will fight for equal rights despite receiving threats to her life and children.
In 2013, Celina was named as UN Equality champion by UN rights chief Navi Pillay for her efforts to end violence and discrimination against the queer community. The actor also presented a short film titled “The Welcome” at the UN headquarters to promote the ‘Free and Equal’ campaign. The video is story of gay couple being accepted into the family. Jaitly is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Human Rights.
Popularly known as desi (Indian) girl, Priyanka Chopra has donned many roles - entrepreneur, singer, film producer, and actor in both Bollywood and Hollywood. The Padma Shri award winner was crowned as Miss World in 2000.
A vocal feminist, Chopra often speaks up for equal pay and women empowerment. She is the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights, and has promoted child rights and education. She was in the news last year for visiting Syrian refugee camps as well.
In 2009, she shot a documentary for an NGO called Alert India to create awareness on leprosy. She has also worked with PETA and NGOs in environmental conservation, as well as pledged to donate her organs after death. She funds 10 percent of her earnings to The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, founded in 2004.
She was named among the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.
Neha Dhupia, winner of Femina Miss India Pageant in 2002 and ranked 10th in the Miss Universe pageant, is active on promoting women’s health. More recently, the actor made headlines for being vocal about breastfeeding and the stigma associated with it. She posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her daughter Mehr and wrote about the need to change perspectives towards such normal act. This started a conversation on social media around breastfeeding, called #freedomtofeed.
Neha also takes part in the Mumbai Marathon, an international marathon event to support the Concern India Foundation which facilitates health and education to children and old aged people. When Sikkim was hit by earthquake in 2011, Neha hopped in and helped raise over 5 lakhs.
She has acted in Hindi, Telegu, Malayalam and Punjabi movies.
Actor and producer Dia Mirza won the Miss Asia Pacific crown when she was 18.
A strong advocate of nature, she became the Ambassador for the Swachh Bharat Mission’s ‘Swachh Saathi’ program in 2016. The following year, she was also appointed as UN Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador for India and as Ambassador for Wildlife Trust of India.
On her birthday in 2016, the actor joined Save the Children, an international non-profit organisation that focuses on child rights and education. She has also been vocal of other issues like the Narmada Bachao Andolan and supported The Body Shop for banning product testing on animals and the practice of recycled packaging. The beauty pageant winner has also worked with the government of Andhra Pradesh in spreading awareness on AIDS.