Meghan Markle spoke openly about the importance of feminism and equal rights during a panel on International Women’s Day, breaking with the British royal family’s traditional reluctance to express political opinions in public.
Markle’s appearance—the first time she has made unscripted remarks since her wedding to Prince Harry last May—coincided with the announcement that she has been named vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which seeks to empower young leaders. Markle was joined by several activists, including songwriter Annie Lennox and Angeline Murimirwa, executive director of the Campaign for Female Education in Africa, according to the Telegraph.
During the discussion, Markle spoke about the importance of taking action to combat inequality. “Hashtags are not enough,” she said. She also talked about menstruation—specifically the need to destigmatize it so young women are not taken out of school or forced to use “old rags, literally” because they do not have access to sanitary products.
“At the end of the day, we’re doing our part just to normalize the conversation,” she said. “That’s the first step. This is 50 percent of the population that’s affected by something, that can also end up creating the most beautiful thing in the world. So it’s a strange one that it’s ended up becoming so stigmatized.”
Anne McElvoy, a journalist and chairwoman of the panel, opined that “growing up in Britain, if a member of the royal family had talked about periods 10 years ago, I think I would have fallen off my chair.” But Markle’s comments may reflect an evolving monarchy. As the Telegraph notes, for instance, the royal family has long adhered to protocols of hierarchy, with Prince Phillip always walking a step behind his wife, the Queen. Prince Harry and Markle do not follow this tradition; Markle has often been observed walking ahead of her husband.
But for the newly anointed Duchess of Sussex, the issue at hand is not of firsts and seconds, but of equals. During the panel, she spoke about the need to involve men in discussions about women’s rights—and insisted that men should embrace their roles as feminists.
“Your confidence comes in knowing that a woman by your side, not behind you, is actually something you shouldn’t be threatened about but, opposed to that, you should feel really empowered in having that additional support that this is really about us working together,” she said. “So I hope that men are part of the conversation. My husband certainly is.”
Markle, who is pregnant, also said that she had recently watched a Netflix documentary in which a pregnant woman had commented that she felt “the embryonic kicking of feminism.”
“I loved that,” she said, according to the New York Times. “So boy or girl, whatever it is, we hope that’s the case.”