Celebrating Meghan – A role model for International Women’s Day

On the 19th May 2018, Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle were married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor – a marriage many said would ‘break down barriers between cultures’ due to Meghan being of African–American descent.  

Her background and ethnicity were certainly both at the forefront of many discussions, along with the choices she has made in the past. Much of the wedding build-up was marred with negativity and scrutiny: her previous marriage and divorce, as well as her turbulent relationship with her father, all caused Meghan to hit the headlines, especially in the UK. The attention prompted Prince Harry to take the unusual step to protect his soon-to-be wife, by releasing an official statement to ask that Meghan’s privacy be respected.  

However, the now Duchess of Sussex took it all in her stride and, when asked about the focus on her ethnicity, Meghan said that although it was “disheartening” and “a shame”, she is “just proud of who I am and where I come from”. And she certainly does have a lot to be proud of!  

A successful actress, Meghan Markle is certainly no stranger to being in the spotlight. Most notably known for her role as Rachel Zane on the series  Suits, the new Duchess of Sussex also spent her time as author and editor of ‘The Tig’, a website she describes as having been her “passion project”. Used as a platform to discuss social issues, the Duchess addressed topics such as gender equality, as well as providing support and inspiration to her followers.  

The site grew to become a much-loved community and, although this and her other social media accounts have now been closed due to her transition from actress to duchess, she left a farewell message, encouraging followers to: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. 

This is a motto Meghan herself most definitely puts at the forefront of her own life, and it all began long before her marriage into the Royal Family. 

Beginning her humanitarian work at the young age of 13, Meghan spent most of her spare time volunteering at a soup kitchen in Los Angeles – something she continued to do until the age of 22.  Not only did her charity work begin at a tender age, but so did her campaigning for  women’s rights and equality. At the age of 11 she successfully campaigned for a company to alter their television advert for washing up liquid, and remove the use of sexist language. 

These early acts of compassion helped shape her future and her commitment to women’s empowerment and social justice, which led to the Duchess being given the title of the UN Women’s Advocate for Women’s Political Participation and Leadership in 2015 – a role she gladly accepted, stating: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.” 

This role led to the Duchess embarking on a learning mission to Rwanda, during which she met female parliamentarian leaders in Kigali and visited Gihembe Refugee Camp, and where she spent time with women, who were working on leadership and empowerment at a grassroots level.  

Her humanitarian work continued to grow and, in 2016, she became a Global Ambassador for World Vision, again visiting Rwanda, this time on a clean water campaign that would work to enable young children to  continue their education. She then undertook a second World Vision learning mission during 2017, when she visited India to help raise awareness of the lack of girls’ education within the country.  

Despite her growing list of charitable work and responsibilities, some quarters began to state that the Duchess “wasn’t doing enough”. In fact, Meghan was simply continuing her charity work away from the spotlight, regularly making visits to The Hubb community kitchen in London where, upon learning the kitchen only had enough funding to open two days a week, the Duchess decided she wanted to help. And in September 2018, a charity cookbook entitled ‘Together: Our Community Cookbook’ was released. It contains 50 recipes that Meghan helped to compile alongside women affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire, from which the profits are to go towards enabling The Hubb to be open seven days a week.  

The year 2018 also brought with it a much-celebrated pregnancy announcement, with Prince Harry and Meghan proudly stating that their first baby is due in Spring 2019. Their excitement has, however, been somewhat overshadowed by negativity, with Meghan having faced a cruel backlash for simply “cradling her bump” too much on stage during her appearance at the British Fashion Awards.  

Opinions and concerns have also been voiced over the couple’s parenting approach; they are reportedly planning to shun the royal tradition of having a nanny, and will instead be relying on Meghan’s mum, Doria, to help with their childcare needs. This, along with their hospital choice – the private wing of NHS Frimley Park – and the fact they have a gender-neutral nursery have all caused waves amongst the public and the Media.  

Similar waves were caused when Meghan was said to have broken another long-standing tradition. With her politically active past in question, she was reported as ‘breaking royal protocol’ for expressing a political opinion over the Referendum result – something which, along with voting,  the British monarchy has been banned from doing since the 17th century. 

It can be argued that, with changing tides come changing times, and no matter what their approach, any deviation from the traditional royal ways means the couple’s decisions and choices are likely to be met with ongoing ongoing, unnecessary and unfair criticism.  

Despite these challenges and rumours of feuds amongst her fellow royals, Meghan has continued to carry out her duties and, having recently been named as patron of four more organisations, she is showing no signs of slowing down in the build-up to her baby’s arrival. 

The organisations, namely the National Theatre; the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU); Smart Works – an organisation that helps long-term unemployed and vulnerable women regain skills and return to work, and Mayhew  — an animal welfare charity that works to improve the lives of dogs, cats and people in London, as well as globally, all reflect Meghan’s longstanding passions for the welfare of animals; access to education; the arts, and support for women. Two of these organisations – the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities – were passed on to Meghan from the Queen. 

The Duchess will be working alongside the National Theatre to help them “make world class theatre that’s entertaining, challenging and inspiring – and to make it for everyone”. 

She will also work alongside the ACU as the world’s first and oldest international university network, “dedicated to building a better world through higher education, by championing the role of universities in addressing global challenges and improving people’s lives.” 

Although her list of inspiring achievements and responsibilities is rapidly growing, the Duchess of Sussex still faces ongoing negativity, along with the unfair title of ‘Duchess Difficult’ and a backlash from many angles, which has in turn led to her being compared to the late Princess Diana and her own treatment in her early royal days. 

However, just like Diana, Meghan has stood strong throughout, ensuring she remains a voice for social justice, women’s rights, humanitarian efforts, animal welfare, positivity and change.  

It is without doubt that the Duchess of Sussex has not only broken down barriers within ‘The Firm’; she has built bridges within communities, and her ongoing efforts mean she continues to ensure her passions and abilities are put to good use and, as such, she will continue to positively impact organisations and individuals across the globe.  

Written By: Josie Timms

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