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Model who changed Miss Universe speaks at Women of the World festival

PUBLISHED: 10:04 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:05 13 March 2018

Muna Jama at the Black British Entertainment Awards. Picture: Horizon

Muna Jama at the Black British Entertainment Awards. Picture: Horizon

Archant

Muna Jama, a model from Forest Gate and the first woman to ditch a bikini in Miss Universe Great Britain, spoke at the Southbank’s Women of the World Festival on Friday.

The 28-year-old grew up in Forest Gate, working as a car saleswoman before becoming a model. Unsatisfied with sales, she turned to human rights work, and now campaigns against illegal migration in East Africa.

“I was used to a luxury lifestyle, but I didn’t feel complete,” she said. “I became passsionate about the illegal migration crisis, especially with the dangerous voyages people were taking from Somalia. It struck me, because I’m British Somali. I wanted to understand why people were putting their lives at risk.”

After taking her first flight to Somalia, Muna began campaigning in 2017. “I was nervous because I realised how different our lives were,” she said.

“Thankfully I had so many members of the community on board with my campaign. They said young people didn’t want their lives exploited overseas, they wanted to stay home and secure a better future for themselves.”

Muna set up Cloudless Research, a not for profit organisation offering healthcare and education opportunities for families too poor to afford it. Soon after, she entered Miss Universe Great Britain.

“A large part of beauty pagents is taking part in changing the world for the better,” she said. “I felt so proud to be British and the opportunities given to me from my upbringing, and I wanted to give back. But while I knew I could get so much from the pageant, I quickly understood that there’s things I liked about myself and didn’t want to change.”

The swimsuit round, in which contestants traditionally wear bikinis, proved a sticking point for the Muslim model, and she told the pageant’s ambassadors she wouldn’t wear one. She said: “It’s all about individuality and I didn’t want that to change, but this had never been done before. They came back to me and said they would love to have me on board. I thought it was fantastic. It wasn’t about me anymore, it spoke volumes to millions of women across Great Britain. Now they could compete without having to compromise their religious beliefs.”

Since then, Muna has been awarded the first ever Global Humanitarian Award at the Black British Entertainment Awards. She also spoke about her work at the Women of the World Festival on Friday.

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