Payengxa Lor is co-founder of the Hmong Women’s Network in the Lao PDR, and sees herself as a transformational leader. As Miss Universe Laos 2022, Payengxa is using her platform to empower others and highlighting the challenges faced by women.
What inspired you to enter Miss Universe?
Before entering the Miss Universe competition, I saw it as a platform that would help me make a big impact in my community, giving me the power to influence people. I want to be a force for good; a transformational leader.
I want to show not only little girls and women, but also boys, that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and work hard. No matter who you are and where you are, know that you are worth all you hope and dream for. Know that you can grow outside of the conditions you grew up in. If you have a clear purpose, you can achieve anything you want in life.
If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Beautifully confident, compassionate, and hard-working.
This year's theme is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. In your opinion, how can digital technology, and innovation, deliver greater gender equality?
I like UNICEF’s definition of gender equality, that women, men, girls, and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities, and protection.
Technology can help girls and women to better themselves, creating more opportunities to access education and careers, while increasing bargaining power and household welfare. Through technology, we can improve gender equality.
What does your public role mean to you?
Having a public role is an honor and responsibility, and it means a lot to me. I have a chance to help other girls, to empower them to better themselves. Taking a public role means you must be a role model, inspiring people to do better things. Everyone can look up to you. It requires passion, hard work and dedication.
In other jobs you have worked in, or in areas of society, have you seen issues of equality evolve over time?
Many people told me not to join the Miss Universe competition, because of discrimination and inequality in society. People believed that judges would not choose me because I am from the Hmong ethnic group, but this has been shown to be untrue. They chose me, and they showed the world that equality really exists.
What are some of the challenges you face as a ‘public leader’, and what have you learned from these?
People expect you to be something or do something, and I have learned that you can’t please everyone — you can’t make everyone happy. What you can do is listen to your inner voice, know who you are, know your purpose, and know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Do the right and good things for people, and know what makes you happy.
What are some of your favorite projects or the most memorable people you've worked with in your career?
I enjoy working for women’s empowerment and helping underprivileged people. I hosted a seminar for the Hmong Women’s Network, and I could see so much hope in people’s eyes; a power that I can feel among all women.
They just need someone to confirm that they are amazing and strong, to know that they can be whoever they want to be, and that they can build and do big things for their people and for themselves.
I have also been working with underprivileged people through a non-profit organization ຜູ້ມີຄວາມຫວັງແບ່ງປັນນ້ຳໃຈ, (“Hopeful people share their hearts”). We help gather and distribute donations. I’ve been working with this team for almost three years. Having grown up poor, I know how important it is to share and help others. When I see people smile it makes my heart happy, and I feel peaceful and calm — that’s why I love helping people.
My mentor is Kabkeo Thammavong, who works as a life coach, author, and motivational speaker. He is one of my idols, and I have learned so much from him, especially about leadership. He is not only a guide but also shows me how to do it and be it. The Miss Universe Organization team is very good. They work professionally, always planning ahead. If there was any mistake, they would talk things out gently and find understanding. They asked questions and always made me feel comfortable.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in Laos?
I think we as women have to see and understand more about leadership. Everyone has leadership skills — they just have to know that they have them. Women are labeled soft, polite, and as housewives, and that is the only image that we ourselves see. We still lack confidence.
We need more role models to show girls and women they are powerful. You can take up that space if you believe in yourself. When more women show leadership, all women will start to see differently, and this will change the way they see themselves and how society will label women. That is something we need to do, to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in Laos. We must start with ourselves, as women, first, and then everything will start to change.
What advice would you have for women in Laos who are still studying or early in their careers?
Always seek what is best for you. Find your purpose in life, believe in it, and make it happen. It’s ok if you still don’t know who or what you want to be. You can dream and chase that dream until you make it. Sometimes you are scared you might fail, and you might not be able to do it, but everything takes time. It is not always easy. It takes a lot of work and patience to get it done. Failure is just a part of life: every successful person fails, and that’s normal. Know that you can achieve your dreams — you will see yourself more clearly when you believe in yourself.
Any other thoughts you have on International Women’s Day?
Be grateful for who you are today, and know that you are amazing. Women are powerful and beautiful. Every obstacle and challenge only makes us stronger and wiser. We should always remember that we are not alone, and we must know our worth and our boundaries. When we know how to love ourselves, we will know how to love others. Be kinder, more empathetic, and more generous. Happy International Women’s Day!
**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.