New Miss Universe aims to fight gender-based violence, empower women through STEM

Miss Mexico Andrea Meza was crowned Miss Universe at the 69th annual pageant on Sunday night. The model and activist plans to use her yearlong reign to advocate for women’s rights and to bring attention to the issue of gender-based violence, she said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”

Meza works closely with the Municipal Institute for Women, an organization focused on ending gender-based violence. She also serves as the official Tourism Brand Ambassador for her hometown of Chihuahua City.

The 26-year-old pageant winner told “GMA” that she always dreamed of competing on the big stage, but admitted that she was “a super shy girl” growing up and had to overcome social anxiety to win the crown.

PHOTO: This image released by Miss Universe Organization shows Miss Universe Mexico 2020 Andrea Meza who was crowned Miss Universe at the 69th Miss Universe Competition at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on May 16, 2021.

“Being here has brought this huge change into my life,” said Meza. “I think, unconsciously, I decided to join this beauty platform to overcome this and it has helped me a lot.”

“I want to use my story to motivate others,” she added. “My story is proof that we can do great things if we start believing in ourselves.”

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Meza, who has a degree in software engineering, said her career in STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math) also taught her many valuable life skills, including organization and project management.

“I come from a family of engineers, so I think I have it in my blood,” said Meza. “I love it because it has taught me so many things.”

She said she began teaching programming classes to kids, educating them with games.

Meza said male students significantly outnumbered women in her university’s engineering classes, which made her feel “uncomfortable” at times.

“In one of my classes, I was the only woman there,” said Meza as she recalled times when she’d even go to classes late to avoid unwanted attention from male students. “It was as if I was meat surrounded by lions and that is just not cool.”

She said that her experience inspired her to discuss the issue openly and encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM to combat the stereotypes many of them face breaking into the industry.

“I invite more women to join the industry because we are capable of doing it,” she said. “I want [women] to know that they’re capable of doing what they want with their lives.”

PHOTO: Andrea Meza, the newly-crowned Miss Universe 2021, appears on ABC's "Good Morning America," May 17, 2021.

Meza has not only worked as a software engineer, but also as an activist in her community. She said she is using her platform to fight gender-based violence around the world.

“I became very interested about this topic,” she said. “[In Mexico], we lose ten women per day because of femicide and that is just unbelievable and I believe that should not be happening anywhere.”

“It is not an issue only in Mexico and Latin America, but all around the world,” she continued. “That’s why I wanted to start talking about this and I wanted to use this platform as Miss Universe to try to keep spreading the word that we shouldn’t be silent.”

Meza said that violence against women is not only limited to femicide, but also includes harassment at the workplace or even while walking down the street. She said she plans to use her platform to help change the status quo.

She said violence against women has been “normalized.”

“That’s why I want to talk about it and maybe open people’s eyes and make them realize that what we are living is wrong and we can create change,” she said.

Meza, who inherited the crown from Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, has already moved to New York City to begin her reign and said she feels, “so grateful and so excited to have this opportunity.”

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