The pageant queen advocating for menstrual hygiene and rural development

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Leoshina Kariha, during one of her visits as Miss Papua New Guinea and Miss Pacific Islands
Leoshina’s goal is to become a specialist or advisor in education for rural and village development.

These may be the last days of her reign, but former Miss Papua New Guinea and current Miss Pacific Islands already has her eyes on the future.

19-year-old Leoshina Kariha explains why she wants to break the stigma surrounding menstruation and advocate for other Pacific girls. 

You recently became the first Youth Advocate for UNICEF in Papua New Guinea (PNG), congratulations! Tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to get involved in Miss PPN and Miss Pacific. 

I live in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, and started my UNICEF work whilst in my reign, during my time off from official pageant duties. Throughout the course of this year, my duties have involved visiting island nations. 

I was inspired to join the pageant when I noticed that many PNG girls were not confident in their own skin. This moved me to join the renowned platform to empower other women. 

Being a female in PNG is not easy, especially when you are trying to be a voice or stand out amidst the current dominant male leadership trend in the country. 

It is rare to see women being vocal on important subjects affecting national development, although we comprise of half the population. I wanted to take action to ensure change and shift the mindsets of women in regard to pursuing leadership roles.  

I will be handing over the crown to the next Miss Pacific Islands by the end of this month. 

Aside from my advocacy work, I really enjoy spending time with friends and travelling. And I always try to communicate my feelings through dance, music or public speaking. 

It is rare to see women being vocal on important subjects affecting national development. I wanted to take action to ensure change.

What are the issues you care about the most? 

The UNICEF Youth Advocate role gives me the rare opportunity to reach youth throughout the nation. 

On Menstrual Hygiene Day, I worked alongside a partner advocate in PNG on a campaign to discuss this cultural taboo. 

I realized that countless girls in rural communities are disadvantaged as they miss a whole week of school each month and they rarely have the facilities (period-friendly toilets) and necessary products to manage their periods. 

My partner advocate and I felt we should continue to grow this awareness, so we began a group on social media to encourage others to discuss the topic of menstrual hygiene management more openly. 

My other two agendas include standing up for youth voices, as well as promoting sustainable tourism in PNG. 

I am greatly motivated to help contribute to rural and village development after witnessing the lack of access to basic health services and education for people in remote areas. Having grown up in the city, I realized that I am one of the lucky ones, but there are indigenous people my age who can’t reach their full potential because of struggles in continuing their education or lack of funding, which leads to loss of motivation and drive. 

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Leoshina Kariha poses with her crown at the UNICEF office in Papua New Guinea
Leoshina used her reign to empower girls and women.

What have you learnt through your role at UNICEF? 

I realized that it is not enough to have a message you are passionate about. I came into the Youth Advocate role, boldly, thinking that I knew what I was going to say, but the truth is I learnt more than I ever knew about youth, children and women whilst on the job.

This is because one needs to witness or experience the problem before they can own and powerfully advocate on a message, walking their talk before their target audience. 

If you have a dream to one day leave your blueprint in this world, it is never too early or too late to begin putting in the work.

What are your ambitions for the future and how do you hope to impact the world? 

I hope that all the work and experiences I have had so far will one day lead me to a career with UNICEF or UNDP, as a specialist or advisor in education for rural and village development. 

My aim is to help others, especially indigenous people, become more self-reliant by using the resources on their land and the skills they already possess to prosper and live comfortable lives. 

 

What advice do you have for other young people who want to pursue an impact like you? 

I would really say that there’s nothing we have to lose in trying when we see opportunities come our way. If you have a dream to one day leave your blueprint in this world, it is never too early or too late to begin putting in the work. Be willing to make mistakes because you never know enough about a certain subject. Also, remain inquisitive and learn to be your number one motivator. 

Interviews
Papua New Guinea