“People will look at me and they’ll put me in a specific box,” Catherine Constantinides says. “As we do,” she concedes. “It’s human nature.” Tall, blonde and beautiful though she may be, underestimating her is a mistake. Refusing to let circumstances dictate her path, it is the choices she has made that define her.
Putting her in a box is near impossible. Her list of occupations and awards is so long and varied that – like her last name – trying to list them all can leave one tripping over their own tongue. Executive Director of the Miss Earth South Africa programme, of which she was the first winner, she is also a climate activist, an entrepreneur, a humanitarian, and a food security advocate.
A leadership programme dedicated to inspiring and shaping a generation of young South African women into protectors of the environment, Miss Earth’s participants – particularly it’s inaugural winner – have gone on to do remarkable work. “Human rights activists, human rights lawyers…” Catherine begins listing them. “We even have somebody who is now an Environmental Law lecturer at the University of Pretoria.”
Her passion for protecting the environment and educating South Africa’s youth about environmental concerns is palpable. She is visibly fervent, unrelenting in her insistence that it is the ordinary men and women who have the greatest stake in the climate change crisis, and who must become involved. “We need to teach people to dream and to hope because it’s only when members of society become active citizens that we can achieve change,” she says.
For Catherine, the importance of women’s contributions in the fight for the environment cannot be overstated. Fuelled by a passion to empower women to take on larger roles in protecting the environment, she explains that, as nurturers and caregivers, women form the backbone of our communities. Their position as pillars of society means they have the potential to influence and drive conservation efforts across the continent, and it is Catherine’s goal to help empower them.
She defines success as “by how one adds value. How did you leave the situation in which you found yourself? You need to leave it a better place.” Through her activism, advocacy and leadership, she is helping to add value to the lives of women across the country; women who never thought they had much to contribute.
Navigating the boulders of Cape Town’s Llandudno beach, Catherine marvels at the natural beauty that surrounds her. As the team sets up the shot, she stares out across the ocean and appears to briefly lose herself in its magnificence. “This,” she murmurs, “Is why I do what I do.”