Ileana Márquez, a 27-year-old mother and teacher, made history Thursday night when she was crowned Miss Venezuela 2023.
Márquez is the first mother to ever win the coveted Miss Venezuela title in the pageant’s 71-year history. She also became the first winner under newly relaxed eligibility rules that allow mothers and married women to compete.
“This triumph is not only for me and my daughter, it’s for all women in Venezuela,” Márquez said moments after winning.
Márquez, who represented the state of Amazonas, was accompanied on stage by her 11-year-old daughter Guadalupe, who celebrated her mother’s groundbreaking win.
Teacher and Mother Defies Odds
Márquez works as a preschool teacher and studied to become a superior technician in early childhood education. She gave birth at age 16 but persevered to complete her studies while raising her daughter as a single mother.
“Being a mother so young was difficult, but my daughter motivates me every day,” Márquez said. “I want to inspire women to transform realities and change the world.”
During the pageant, Márquez emphasized her commitment to supporting children, adolescents, and women facing challenging circumstances. She aims to promote this cause during her one-year reign as Miss Venezuela while preparing to represent her country at Miss Universe 2024 this January in Mexico.
New Rules Expand Eligibility
The Miss Venezuela Organization announced expanded eligibility rules in 2022, following policy changes at the Miss Universe pageant, allowing mothers and married women to compete internationally for the first time.
Previously, Venezuelan candidates had to be unmarried with no children to qualify for the contest. Pageant leaders said updating these rules aligned with more inclusive modern values.
“We celebrate women in all their diversity,” said Gabriela Isler, Miss Universe 2013 and spokesperson for Miss Venezuela. “Ileana represents the strength and determination of mothers across Venezuela.”
This year’s competition also announced the age limit of 28 would be lifted in 2024, welcoming more candidates from a wider range of backgrounds to participate.
Marquez Praises Expanded Opportunities
During a press conference Friday morning, Márquez applauded the policy changes that allowed her to fulfill her lifelong dream of representing Venezuela on the global stage.
“Mothers deserve chances too. My victory opens doors,” Márquez said. “I want to inspire single mothers fighting for their goals.”
While some staunch pageant fans have criticized the eligibility expansions online, many advocacy groups in Venezuela have praised the decision as progressive and empowering.
“Beauty queens no longer have to fit old stereotypes,” said Carmen Herrera, director of Family Justice Venezuela. “All women now have a chance to compete, judged on their merits.”
First Mother Could Inspire Others
Márquez follows in the footsteps of Michelle Marie Cohn of Guatemala, who placed in the Top 10 at Miss Universe 2023 as the pageant’s first mother contestant. Now, she aims to match or exceed Cohn’s success when she travels to Mexico City next January.
The new Miss Venezuela has ambitious goals for her reign and hopes her barrier-breaking win inspires other nontraditional candidates.
“Women like me were not seen before,” Márquez said. “Now we are proving we can shine brighter than ever.”