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Meghan: Empowerment of women ‘changes absolutely everything’ for communities

The Duchess of Sussex was visiting the University of Johannesburg to discuss challenges faced by young women in accessing higher education.

The Duchess of Sussex visiting the University of Johannesburg in South Africa (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA)
The Duchess of Sussex visiting the University of Johannesburg in South Africa (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA)

By Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter

The Duchess of Sussex has told academics and students that when a woman is empowered it “changes absolutely everything” in the community.

Meghan was carrying out a solo engagement at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, while husband Harry is in Malawi on the penultimate day of their 10-day overseas tour.

She was greeted by scores of screaming well-wishers as she arrived for an Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) round-table discussion about the challenges faced by young women in accessing higher education.

The American former Suits star took on the role of the ACU’s patron in January from the Queen, who held the position for 33 years.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chancellor of the university, praised the duchess afterwards, describing her as an inspiration to black students across South Africa thanks in part to her mixed-race heritage.

“Meghan will absolutely inspire women, partly because she is black,” he said.

The duchess previously described herself as a “woman of colour” on the opening day of the tour in a South African township.

Prof Marwala said during the round-table discussion: “If you want to feed a village you have to empower women.”

During the event, Meghan announced three new Gender Grants for the University of Johannesburg, Stellenbosch University and the University of Western Cape.

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The Duchess of Sussex at the university (Christiaan Kotze/PA)

She stressed to the room full of academics and scholarship students the key role played by education, and especially university education, and said it meant a lot to her “on a personal level”.

The grant at Stellenbosch will fund  a “unique campus walking route” designed to make both men and women feel safer at university.

It will identify areas that women are concerned about and improve security.

The duchess said she would like to visit one day and walk the route when it is completed.

She reached for notes while announcing new scholarships and grants, admitting: “I will use note cards today because, my goodness, this last bit I can’t screw up.”

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Meghan arriving for the solo engagement (Christiaan Kotze/PA)

She added: “The goal here is to be able to have gender equality, to be able to support women as they are working in research and higher education roles.

“And also to be able to have workshops, convene things that are really helping people understand the importance of gender equality.

“True to what you said, when a woman is empowered it changes absolutely everything in the community and starting an educational atmosphere is really a key point of that.”

She also spoke about her own experience of being able to attend university.

Meghan said: “If you don’t have the support that is necessary that you feel that you can keep taking the next step then you’re stunted in growth.”

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Spectators, police and the media watch Meghan during her visit to the university (Christiaan Kotze/PA)

She added: “I went to university. It takes a village, doesn’t it, to sort of piece it together for people to be able to finance that.

“Families chipping in, scholarship, financially all those things that were the reason that I was able to attend university.

“But at the same level you need to have that kind of support on the inside for educators to be able to give as much as they can back to those who are in the educational system.”

The duchess, who wore her hair down and was in a £95 khaki Banana Republic double-breasted trench dress, was greeted by Susana Glavan, director of the British Council in South Africa, and Prof Marwala.

Meghan is a passionate promoter of accessible education for all.

During the couple’s tour of Fiji last year, she announced new grants for ACU member universities in the Pacific, to fund learning initiatives aimed at empowering female university staff and promoting gender equality.

The Duke of Sussex, meanwhile, visited a health centre in Malawi on Tuesday to learn about the challenges it faces serving the local community.

Meghan also announced the next cohort of Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships, including four students from Tanzania, Zambia and Nigeria, who will be studying in South Africa next year.

PA

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