Design researcher Zahra Khanum crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2018

Abdul Rahman Azhari

A 23-year-old design researcher has won the coveted title of Miss Universe Singapore 2018.

Zahra Khanum beat 14 other finalists to the crown in the beauty pageant held at One Farrer Hotel on Friday (31 August).

She will represent Singapore in the Miss Universe 2018 pageant in Bangkok on 17 December.

Khanum walked away with $10,000 in cash, as well as prizes including a five-night cruise package for two aboard Genting Dream and a smile makeover from Orchard Scotts Dental.

Full-time university student Tiong Jia En, 23, and realtor Jaslyn Tan, 26, finished first and second runner-up respectively.

Khanum, who has Pakistani, Kashmiri and Chinese heritage, said that she felt “ecstatic” and “excited” over her victory.

“I’m so happy for the new beginning that I’m going to be on. This journey has been really amazing and I’m very thankful for it,” said Khanum, who received the crown from last year’s Miss Universe, Manuela Bruntraeger.

“Coming on stage and being confident has definitely been a process and a journey for me, so today, winning this has been really just an extremely amazing reward,” said the National University of Singapore sociology graduate, adding that she wants to “work with children who come from fragmented families”.

Khanum’s mother, Rahat Bano, said that she felt “very proud” of what her daughter has accomplished in the competition.

“She has always been helping children. The children love her so much. I’m so happy that she can carry this (cause) out,” she said.

Her 21-year-old brother, Kheyzeur Baba, said that Khanum has “always inspired others, be it me or my mum.”

“For me, personally, since young, I’ll always watch her act in theatre; she was in theatre school. So, from there, I actually got inspired to be in the media industry,” he said.

The evening started with a catwalk from the 15 finalists, who then went through a bikini and a gown segment.

The judges then whittled the competition down to just five finalists for the question-and-answer (Q&A) segment, in which the question was posed: “How is the “Me Too” movement relevant to Singapore?”

Khanum’s impassioned response during the Q&A segment was met with loud applause from the crowd.

“I’m incredibly hopeful that women are coming together to stand tall, and to say ‘You know what, you are not alone. Me too. I stand by you,'” she said.

She continued: “It takes a lot of strength for a woman to come up, whether they have gone through abuse emotionally, verbally, or sexually. And I really admire the fact that the #MeToo movement has allowed women to come together to be strong, to build each other up, and to protect the women of the future.”

The #MeToo campaign emerged in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in Hollywood starting last October, and has spread to Asian countries such as South Korea and China. Many women have since come forward to share allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent individuals in media, entertainment and politics.

The judging panel for the contest included Miss Universe Singapore national director Nuraliza Osman, Miss Universe Singapore 2015 winner Lisa Marie White, South African former model Wendy Jacobs and Miss Universe Malaysia 2003 winner Elaine Daly.

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