Leadership

How Meghan Markle became an advocate for women’s rights at the age of 11

Meghan Markle star of USA Network's orginal drama 'Suits' hosts the 2015 Women in Cable Telecommunications Signature Luncheon
Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Meghan Markle star of USA Network's orginal drama 'Suits' hosts the 2015 Women in Cable Telecommunications Signature Luncheon

Many may associate Meghan Markle with the hit TV show "Suits", or for her relationship with Prince Harry. But the American actress is also known for her commitment to championing women's rights.

As a humanitarian, Markle has made a name for herself in the activism world by getting involved in a number of philanthropic projects. To date, the TV and movie actress has been bestowed the title of global ambassador for World Vision, advocate for UN Women, and counsellor for One Young World, a U.K.-based charity.

While the actress has been seen as a key figure in raising global attention to gender equality as of late, Markle herself claims her activist nature dates back to before she was a teenager.

"When I was just 11 years old, I unknowingly and somehow accidentally became a female advocate," Markle said at the UN Women's "20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing" event in 2015.

More than two decades ago, Markle was watching a TV program whilst at elementary school when a dish-washing liquid commercial came onto the screen, she recalled. What sparked her attention was its tagline: "Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans."

"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."

Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane on "Suits"
Shane Mahood/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank | NBCUniversal | Getty Images
Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane on "Suits"

"So I went home and I told my dad what had happened, and he encouraged me to write letters, so I did."

The future actress went away and wrote to the likes of the then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, TV journalist Linda Ellerbee and attorney Gloria Allred, in addition to addressing a letter to the soap manufacturer. To Markle's surprise, she received "letters of encouragement" from all three women, and a camera crew even came to her house in Los Angeles to cover the story.

And the campaigning didn't just encourage discussion and change on a local level either.

"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,'" Markle claims.

"It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions. At the age of 11, I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality."

Getty Images | Samir Hussein

When it comes to gender equality in the workforce and politics, a recent Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that it could take as long as another 217 years before the world achieves gender parity. In that same study, WEF said that the political arena currently holds "the widest gender gap," yet is also demonstrating the most progress, despite a recent slowdown.

Consequently, the topic of promoting equality on all levels is as important today as when Markle delivered her 2015 speech as UN Women's advocate for political participation and leadership.

By promoting positive role models and advocating for equality, society can remind "girls that their small voices are, in fact, not small at all and that they can affect change," the U.S. actress said.

"In doing this, we remind women that their involvement matters, that they need to become active in their communities, in their local governments, as well as the highest parliamentary positions. It is just imperative."

"Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there and in some cases, where this isn't available, well then you know what, then they need to create their own table," Markle added.

"It isn't enough to simply talk about equality, one must believe in it and it isn't enough to simply believe in it. One must work at it."

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