On Friday, The Duchess of Sussex celebrated International Women’s Day early by making a surprise visit to Robert Clack School in Dagenham, London. The engagement was embargoed until last night and today, on International Women’s Day, SussexRoyal shared more videos, photos and behind the scenes information in celebration of the day.
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Meghan surprised around 700 students at the school in London when she arrived. The students knew that a special guest was going to visit, but they had no idea it would be a member of the Royal Family on her very last solo engagement before she steps back from duties.
The Duchess of Sussex picked Dagenham for the visit after she learned of its sewing machinists strike in 1968. The strike saw the female workers at the Ford Motor Plant walk out over unfair pay and garnered a lot of support from the British public, which led to a demonstration in Trafalgar Square of women trade unions.
In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was passed, something which was a direct result of that strike two years previous. Those inspirational women led the way for the future generation of female workers in the UK.
During the visit, Meghan met with one of those women. Geraldine Dear, who is now 66 and retired, was one of the women who started that strike.
In a speech during assembly, the Duchess praised Geraldine and her fellow machinists: “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 colour 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.”
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During the Assembly, Meghan gave a speech where she touched on gender equality, social justice and women’s empowerment. She also encouraged the pupils to continue paving the way, as the people before them did so. “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.”
During her speech, the Royal invited a student up to give their opinion on International Women’s Day. Aker Okoye, who volunteered, proclaimed “she really beautiful, innit?” into the mic as he took the podium, causing Meghan and everyone gathered to burst into laughter.
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Meghan made a speech at the Essex school to a group of teenagers who were … beside themselves about their special guest !! pic.twitter.com/rZCYT6sQPK
— Chris Ship (@chrisshipitv) March 7, 2020
As she wrapped up her visit, the Duchess posed for photos with the students. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachForEqual, and everyone made the equal sign as the posed for the cameras.
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But ahead of the assembly in the school hall, Meghan toured the school. She met with students working on a number of projects for International Women’s Day, including a female student who was researching female poets. Meghan spoke to the student about her love for Maya Angelou.
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In the Art Studio, the mother-of-one met with students from the school debate society who are preparing for a Model United Nations programme. She joked with them while also discussing topics which included women’s rights and inequality.
The special guest told the students that she was proud of them and “you are just so eloquent and incredibly well spoken”. One of the students was Wesley Oparagua, who met The Duke of Sussex in April 2019 at the opening of Dagenham’s Future Youth Zone.
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Meghan has been an advocate for women’s rights since she was a young girl. She said that “when I was just 11 years old, I unknowingly and somehow accidentally became a female advocate”. While watching a TV advert for washing up liquid, Meghan noticed that it was only addressed to women.
“Two boys from my class said, ‘Yeah, that’s where women belong, in the kitchen,'” she said. “I remember feeling shocked and angry and also just feeling so hurt. It just wasn’t right and something needed to be done.”
So the young Ms Markle wrote a number of letters, to First Lady Hillary Clinton, journalist Linda Ellerbee and attorney Gloria Allred and you the manufacturer of the soap.
“It was roughly a month later, when the soap manufacturer Procter & Gamble changed the commercial for their ivory clear dish-washing liquid. They changed it from ‘Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans’ to ‘People all over America’. It was at that moment that I realised the magnitude of my actions. At the age of 11, I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality.”
Meghan became an advocate for UN Women, speaking at the United Nations on International Women’s Day 2015. Her world in that area is something she carried over into Royal life, with a lot of her projects to date helping to encourage and empower women.
On her last solo engagement before she steps back as a working member of the Royal Family, it was interesting to hear her speech. “You have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life—protect them. Make sure that they are feeling valued and safe,” she told students – an apt message for International Women’s Day.