Duchess Meghan found her interest in gender equality and social justice advocacy at the young age of 11, so it was only right that she mark this year’s International Women’s Day by inspiring women of the future.
The Duchess of Sussex surprised 700 students at a school in east London on Friday, March 6, when she travelled across the capital to host a special assembly about the importance of empowering women.
Pupils at the Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham had no clue who their “surprise guest” was until Meghan arrived at the gates just after 2 p.m. Co-ed students from 6th grade all the way to senior year lined her path to the main building, all cheering with excitement.
The school’s location in the area of Dagenham was of particular importance to the duchess, who picked the district after learning about its landmark sewing machinists strike in 1968. The event saw female workers at the Ford Motor Plant walk out over unfair pay and led to a women trades unionist demonstration in the capital’s Trafalgar Square and, ultimately, the passing of Britain’s Equal Pay Act in 1970. The movement paved the way for future generations of female workers in the country and also ties in with the #EachforEqual campaign theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.
“Coming to your school made a lot of sense for me because of this social justice and the impact that it’s rooted in,” she told the classmates gathered at the school hall, adding that being in the area was “incredibly profound.”
Referring to retired Ford tailoress Geraldine Dear, 66, who was one of the 13 “rebels” that started the strike, Meghan added, “As you can see with Geraldine and the other women who had the strength to really stand up for something that they knew needed to be done—is the best example of no matter how small you might feel, how low you may feel on the ladder or the totem pole, no matter what color you are, no matter what gender you are—you have a voice, and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right.”
As the students enthusiastically clapped and nodded, Meghan continued, “What’s really key for all of you to remember is, especially looking at the people who paved the way for you to get to this point in your lives, to be able to have the access that you do—it’s not just an opportunity to continue that, it’s a responsibility. I encourage and empower each of you to really stand in your truth, to stand for what is right—to continue to respect each other.”
Before the assembly, Meghan toured classrooms and met students working on a number of IWD projects. Speaking to a female student in the library, Meghan spoke of her love for Maya Angelou as she heard about the research they had been doing on female poets. At Robert Clack’s Art Studio, Meghan met 16-year-old students from the school debate society who are currently preparing for a Model United Nations competition, discussing a range of topics including women’s rights and inequality. “This room, you are just so eloquent and incredibly well spoken,” she told the students, including local Young Mayor Wesley Oparagua, who met Prince Harry in April 2019 at the opening of Dagenham’s Future Youth Zone center. “It’s incredibly impressive and I’m just so proud of you to be able to witness so much of this activism and energy that you have in this room because it’s how we are going to see the impact in the world that we need. It’s all your voices, being empowered to use that voice. So well done, you guys are going to do great!”
The visit also saw a few humorous moments for Meghan as she met a number of students. During her assembly speech, Meghan requested a volunteer. “Before I continue I’m going to go off the cuff here,” she said. “Because I do think what’s really key—is there one brave young man in this room, who wants to come and say what he thinks the importance of International Women’s Day is?" A number of hands went up but it was head boy Aker Okoye who was called to the stage. “She’s really beautiful, innit?” The 16-year-old chuckled over the mic to the packed hall. But sophomore student went on to explain that IWD was not just about women, but also the men who need to play a role in achieving equality.
Impressed, Meghan commented, “In many societies, it doesn't matter where you are, it’s very easy to sometimes compartmentalize or silo this idea of International Women’s Day solely being about women—but it’s not—it’s about all of us.”
As the duchess began to wrap up her final solo engagement as a working member of the royal family, her impact on the students was already clear. For Fiona Addai, 11, presenting flowers to Meghan when she first arrived was a moment she will never forget. “She is my biggest idol,” she said. “She is Black and you don’t normally get that inside the royal family so I hope when I’m older ... she’s taught me no matter what color you are, I am able to do anything any other person can. She’s helped me believe in myself.”
For the young men in attendance, Meghan’s words clearly rang true as they rushed to jump in to an #EachforEqual photo with the duchess and female students, complete with the official pose. “Continue to value and appreciate the women in your lives, and also set the example for some men who are not seeing it that same way,” Meghan said in her final remarks. “You have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life—protect them. Make sure that they are feeling valued and safe. Let's all rally together to make International Women’s Day something that is not just on Sunday—but frankly, feels like every day of the year.”
You Might Also Like