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International Women’s Day panel with The Duchess of Sussex shines a light on the role of young men and women in female empowerment

The Duchess of Sussex participated in a panel discussion convened by The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust for International Women’s Day. Joined by an audience of students, opinion formers and young leaders, the panel discussed a range of topics with an emphasis on education, the importance of boys and men in driving equality, and the role social media can play in the movement.

The Duchess, newly appointed Vice-President of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, said: “Inequality is a global issue, so we’re all experiencing the same issues in different ways. As a united force, we have to tackle this. We have to see it as a global challenge that we’re all looking to solve. When women miss out on careers, education or opportunities because of the system that they live in, we all suffer. It affects everything.”

Those joining The Duchess for this unique panel were Annie Lennox OBE, founder of The Circle, an organisation supporting and empowering women’s lives around the world; Adwoa Aboah, founder of Gurls Talk, an open community where young girls can talk about the issues that matter to them; Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London; Chrisann Jarrett, Founder of Let us Learn; and Angeline Murimirwa, Executive Director of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) in Africa and co-founder of CAMA, a pan-African network of young female leaders. The panel was chaired by Anne McElvoy, Senior Editor of The Economist.

IWD Panel front page

Vice President of QCT, The Duchess of Sussex, joins a panel discussion to mark International Women's Day

A key theme of the panel was education and everyone’s right to learn. Angeline Murimirwa stated that “Education is the single most positive force in making change. It’s a fundamental right, and we have to work hard if we’re going to make change globally.” She went on to share how transformational change can be achieved in empowering girls and women specifically, stating that “we have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate change, but it can’t be fought alone.”

The panel went on to discuss what men and boys can do in the fight for gender equality. Adwoa Aboah stated that “we have to bring men and boys into our global community of feminists.” Annie Lennox, OBE, said “I’d like every man to be able to stand up and say ‘I am a global feminist.’”

Julia Gillard commented “educating people around global feminism isn’t exclusive to women. We need to have boys in the conversation so they don’t just mimic what they see at home.” The panel agreed that the problem starts with the labels that are placed on men and boys to be ‘masculine’, forcing them to embrace the image and views that have been handed down to them. Gillard went on to say “men are looking for differences in their lives. They want to stay home with children and be more of a caregiver for their kids. We can help men get out of their boxes and stereotypes with gender equality.”

The women agreed that feminism shouldn’t be seen as just a ‘trendy’ topic as this can discredit the seriousness of the debate and encourages talking rather than action. The panel asserted that social media plays a part in highlighting the issues but is only meaningful if it leads to action, and hashtags alone are not enough.

The Duchess of Sussex also discussed what first motivated her to become a passionate advocate for women’s rights, stating “at age 11, I saw a commercial on television that struck me as wrong and I complained to the station. I didn’t know why, but I knew something wasn’t right. Someone had to say something, so I thought ‘why not me?’ Since then, I’ve always believed that you have to speak up when you see injustice. I’m thrilled that my role in the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust allows me to do this.”

Nicola Brentnall, CEO of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust stated: “The Trust was delighted to use its platform to raise and showcase these important issues today, challenges that young people around the world care so deeply about. This is what we exist to do at the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and intend on doing so much more.”

The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust was delighted to host this panel discussion today, which highlighted the importance of amplifying the voices of those furthest from power and creating the environment where all young people, women and men, have the tools and the recognition they need to succeed.

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