Duchesses Meghan and Kate and their husbands made their first joint public appearance since Christmas Tuesday at a reception marking Prince Charles’ 50 years as Prince of Wales.
Is it “political” to declare yourself a proud feminist if you’re a British royal?
No doubt anti-royalists on Twitter in the United Kingdom are gritting their teeth over this question, but it isn’t stopping American-born Duchess Meghan of Sussex from letting her feminist flag fly to mark International Women’s Day on Friday.
Meghan, who arrived bare-legged in a black-and-white printed Reiss minidress and black blazer, joins a panel of esteemed women thinkers and activists, including Scottish rock star Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics, and Julia Gillard, a former prime minister of Australia, at King’s College London to discuss issues affecting women today.
As she arrived for the event, the palace announced she had been named vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, an organization that champions, funds and connects young leaders around the world. The trust is dear the queen, who appointed Harry as president; the Commonwealth and the trust are going to be crucial to Harry and Meghan’s royal duties for the foreseeable future.
“’We are particularly delighted that the first opportunity of formally working together with Her Royal Highness comes on International Women’s Day,” said the group’s CEO Nicola Brentnall. “This squares perfectly with our focus on amplifying the work and contribution of those furthest away from power..”
In America, being a feminist is not necessarily a partisan political stance but the rules are usually different for British royals, expected to stay “above” partisan politics at all times. On the other hand, the top royal is a woman.
Since joining the royal family, the former actress has throttled back on some of the political opinions she used to express on social media and her now-defunct blog, The Tig. But she has continued to support women’s causes in her official capacity, including writing an essay for Time on the stigma surrounding menstruation for International Women’s Day in 2017. And her first solo royal project was to help launch a charity cookbook of recipes from women whose community was affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London.
During last fall’s South Pacific tour (her first major overseas trip as a royal), she promoted the importance of education for women and girls in developing countries and praised New Zealand as the first country to give women the vote.
“Given her global profile, Meghan, as a senior member of the world’s most high-profile royal family, is ideally placed to campaign in Britain, in the Commonwealth and in the wider world on this issue in which she so strongly believes,” says royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams.
For Friday’s event, she is an equal among a group of international stars, including Lennox, founder of The Circle, an organization supporting and empowering women’s lives around the world, and Gillard, chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London.
And in a possible sign of the times, Meghan isn’t the only royal in-law stepping up to champion women: Countess Sophie of Wessex, 54, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter-in-law (married to her youngest, Prince Edward), announced Thursday she will champion the work of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, co-founded up by American actress Angelina Jolie in 2014 to help victims of conflict-related rape, sexual violence and exploitation.
Writing for The Telegraph to mark International Women’s Day, Sophie lamented the current “backdrop of ugly headlines for women, revelations of sexual exploitation and the abuse suffered by those in war zones” that make it easier to overlook “brave women who stand for progress, even when their physical security and basic aspirations are under threat.”
Meghan’s audience included students, commentators and young thought-leaders, according to Kensington Palace. The topic will be the spotlight that International Women’s Day can bring to the obstacles that block female access to education and employment across the world.
Besides Lennox and Gillard, her fellow panelists will include Adwoa Aboah, founder of Gurls Talk, an open community where young girls can talk about the issues that matter to them; Chrisann Jarrett, founder of Let us Learn; and Angeline Murimirwa, executive director of the Campaign for Female Education in Africa and co-founder of a pan-African network of young female leaders.
This is Meghan’s third public appearance of the week: On Monday, she joined the royal family at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her father-in-law Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales. It was the first time Harry and Meghan and Prince William and Duchess Kate of Cambridge had been seen in public together since Christmas Day.
Then on Wednesday, she was pulled on stage by Harry as a surprise following his speech at Wembley Arena in London for WE Day UK, the global campaign to encourage young people to take part in positive social change. Harry had just addressed the crowd on a range of topics from mental health to climate change to making one’s voice heard.
The speech provoked some tabloid harrumphing: “New Age gibberish,” sniffed one Daily Mail columnist, who blamed it on Meghan’s alleged “hippie” influence.
But the more alarming trend in commentary about the royals is the amount of racist vitriol heaped on Meghan in social media since her pregnancy was announced in October. The development prompted the palace to issue a stern warning Monday that it will block internet trolls posting offensive messages on its social media channels — and may report offenders to police.
Meghan and Harry are expected to make at least two more joint appearances next week, on Monday, when they visit Canada House in London to mark Commonwealth Day on Monday. Later that day, they will join the royal family, including the queen, to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, where they will again be seen with Will and Kate and other senior royals.
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