MISS Mai Life Magazine Drue Slatter took out the Vodafone Hibiscus 2012 Best Research award in Suva yesterday.
With women's and men's role shaped by their upbringings, expectations and codes based on religions, traditions and culture, she spoke of how as a young person, she would promote gender equality while still respecting the role of culture, religion and society.
"I have ovaries and produce eggs. Therefore, my biology claims that I am female. That is my sex. My gender, on the other hand, is up to society or up to myself to decide," Ms Slatter said
"Regardless of what makes a man or makes a woman in different societies, one thing that I believe is that both genders are equal. We aren't identical.
"We have different approaches to things, different strengths and weaknesses. We must celebrate these differences but always remember that in our worth, in how important we are to society, we are equal."
Ms Slatter said many believed that the millennium development goal (MDG) number three on gender equality was a new, western idea that would infringe on traditions and customs.
"But I know that root of all our cultures and religions, there is a respect for every human being, be it man or woman. Culture and religion are part of our identity. In order to promote gender equality, we need to work with these traditional mechanisms," she said.
"Support for those facing gender-based violence, male or female. By providing this safe-space, free of judgement, we encourage more people to speak out about it without feeling alone or alienated. Including men in our efforts also has a great effect but going past mere inclusion into actively engaging them can make all the difference and speak volumes to other men about this new culture of gender equality and its benefits," Ms Slatter said.
"Men's rights are also a part of gender equality that is often overlooked."
She also urged youths not to be afraid to voice their opinions to older leaders.
"Something this generation can teach our traditional and state leaders is that culture is not static. And neither is religion. They are constantly changing and adapting to the practical needs of the time."
But she said youths must be respectful.
"As young people, we still have a whole lot to learn from our traditional and religious leaders. Gender equality and tradition must work hand in hand because both have so much to teach the other."
Ms Slatter acknowledged the initiatives taking place nationwide to promote the elimination of gender-based violence.
She said it was not about one outdoing the other with gender equality and tradition, rather about compromise.
"That we, as young people, begin this fresh new culture of equality for all."
Other contestants spoke on the issue of human rights, climate change, gender equality, and sustainable development, among other topics.
United Nations Working Group on Youth representative Line Begby said the festival was an excellent platform to highlight issues youths faced in Fiji and in the region. She said there were greater opportunities for both young men and women in the country, and with the right support, they could achieve anything they set their minds on.