Why Meghan Markle's Focus on Women's Empowerment in South Africa Is So Important

Victoria Murphy
Photo credit: Pacific Press - Getty Images

From Town & Country

Meghan Markle was just 11 years old when she was so struck by sexist language in a TV commercial for dishwashing soap that she decided to campaign to have it changed. Despite being a schoolgirl with no public profile or connections, she was successful, and so began a lifetime commitment to standing up for gender equality and women’s rights.

It is no surprise, then, that these issues feature highly on the agenda for the Duchess of Sussex throughout the itinerary of her trip to South Africa, which begins later this month.

“Through her Patronages, the Duchess will be working with organisations to promote women’s education, health, entrepreneurship and leadership,” the Sussexes’ private secretary Samantha Cohen said as she announced details of the 10-day visit. She continued, sharing that the duchess is “particularly looking forward” to learning from “inspirational women in the region.”

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The focus on women and girls begins right at the start of the visit in Cape Town on Monday September 23. Harry and Meghan will attend an event with a project that teaches children about their rights and provides self-defense classes and female empowerment training to young girls. Two days later, Meghan will make a solo visit to the Woodstock Exchange area, where she will meet with female entrepreneurs and investors working in technology. “Her Royal Highness will highlight the benefits of networking between aspiring female entrepreneurs and successful female role models,” Cohen said.

While Harry is in Angola, Meghan will remain in Cape Town and take part in a "Women in Public Service" breakfast at the High Commission. She will speak with women who have played a key role in the development of South Africa’s Parliament, government, education and healthcare systems, and those who advocate for gender equality. A few days later, in Johannesburg, the duchess will meet with academics and students, and discuss the challenges faced by young women in accessing higher education. After that, she will visit a school to see the work of a charity which receives U.K. aid funding for its mission to raise awareness of and tackle sexual violence in schools.

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The issue of violence against women is particularly pertinent in South Africa right now. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently addressed the nation, saying: “Violence against women has become more than a national crisis. It is a crime against our common humanity.” And in September, people took to the streets to protest gender-based violence in protests following the rape and murder of 19-year-old university student Uyinene Mrwetyana.

In 2017, South Africa ranked 90th out of 160 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s gender inequality inde, which measures the gender disparity within a country. The index takes into account reproductive health, parliamentary representation, attainment in education, and labor market participation.

The program for Harry and Meghan’s trip has been organized alongside the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the royals and their staff have worked closely with representatives in host countries to create the final itinerary.

As Samantha Cohen said, “Not only will this visit serve as an opportunity for the Duke and Duchess to highlight many of the causes they have been involved with for many years, it will demonstrate a modern UK-Africa partnership in action.”

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