Meghan Markle's Trailblazing Feminism Through the Years, in Honor of Women's History Month

From fighting a sexist commercial at age 11 to promoting women's access to education, Meghan has inspired gender equality across the globe.

01 of 17

Speaking Out Against Sexism — at 11!

Meghan was inspired to change a TV commercial at the age of 11, after having seen a Procter & Gamble commercial that advertised its Ivory dishwashing soap solely to women.

The commercial for the soap struck her as unfair and insensitive when she heard, "women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans."

"I don't think it's right for kids to grow up thinking these things, that just mom does everything," the then 11-year-old said during an interview with Nick News.

Meghan decided to write to the company and asked them to change their slogan from "women all over America" to "people all over America" — and the company did!

02 of 17

Fighting Sexualization

SUITS Patrick J. Adams as Micheal Ross, Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane
Patrick J. Adams and Meghan Markle on Suits. Shane Mahood/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Meghan starred in the TV series Suits for seven seasons, and she spoke out when she felt her character was continuously sexualized.

Speaking at the One Young World conference in Dublin, Meghan reportedly said: "This season, every script seemed to begin with Rachel enters wearing a towel. And I said, no, not doing it anymore.

"I called the creator and I said and I was like, it's just gratuitous, we get it, we've already seen it once. So I think at a certain point you feel empowered enough to just say no."

03 of 17

Standing Against the Stigma Surrounding Menstruation

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. Samir Hussein/WireImage

In 2017, Meghan penned a powerful essay for Time on the stigma surrounding menstruation in the developing world.

"I traveled to Delhi and Mumbai this January with World Vision to meet girls and women directly impacted by the stigmatization of menstrual health and to learn how it hinders girls' education," she wrote. "One hundred and thirteen million adolescent girls between the ages of 12-14 in India alone are at risk of dropping out of school because of the stigma surrounding menstrual health."

She added that girls feel embarrassed and ill equipped, causing them to stop going to school.

"Wasted opportunity is unacceptable with stakes this high," Meghan said. "To break the cycle of poverty, and to achieve economic growth and sustainability in developing countries, young women need access to education."

04 of 17

Appearing at the U.N.

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle and Doria Ragland. Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Meghan appeared at the U.N. Women's conference on International Women's Day 2015. She sweetly brought her mom, Doria Ragland, along with her, but it was her speech on gender equality that was truly inspiring.

"UN Women, as you guys know, has defined the year 2030 as the expiration date for gender inequality," she said. "And here's what's staggering — the studies show that at the current rate, the elimination of gender inequality won't be possible until 2095. That's another eighty years from now. And when it comes to women's political participation and leadership the percentage of female parliamentarians globally has only increased by 11% since 1995. Eleven percent in 20 years? Come on. This has to change. Women make up more than half of the world's population and potential, so it is neither just nor practical for their voices, for our voices, to go unheard at the highest levels of decision-making."

05 of 17

Remembering Her Words

In a 2022 video for International Women's Day, part of Meghan's U.N. speech was included alongside the words of other feminist women: "It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision."

06 of 17

Fighting for Clean Water Access

In 2016, Meghan traveled to Rwanda with World Vision to see how clean water could help change a community.

"These girls are able to stay in school because they aren't walking hours a day to go and get water," Meghan said. "This clean water source has changed the entire community."

07 of 17

Improving Gender Equality

In 2017, Meghan traveled again as a World Vision Global Ambassador — this time heading to India to advocate for gender equality, health improvements and girls' education.

She met with local activists and educators to talk about improving access to girls' latrines, a significant problem for 63 million teenage girls in India.

08 of 17

Making Her Voice Heard

Meghan Markle
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and Prince William. Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty

Just a few months ahead of her royal wedding, Meghan used her platform to encourage people to listen to women.

"I hear a lot of people speaking about girls' empowerment and women's empowerment — you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices," she said in 2018 alongside Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate at the first annual Royal Foundation Forum. "I fundamentally disagree with that because women don't need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen."

09 of 17

Making a Statement

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty

After her father was unable to attend her May 2018 wedding to Prince Harry, Meghan struck a powerful image as she walked down the aisle unaccompanied. Although Prince Charles escorted her part of the way down the aisle, no one "gave her away" to her new husband.

10 of 17

Supporting Suffrage

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. Kirsty Wigglesworth - Pool /Getty

In New Zealand, Meghan celebrated New Zealand's 125th anniversary of women's suffrage.

"We are proud to be able to join you tonight in celebrating the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in your country," Meghan began her speech. "The achievements of the women of New Zealand who campaigned for their right to vote, and were the first in the world to achieve it, are universally admired. In looking forward to this very special occasion, I reflected on the importance of this achievement, but also the larger impact of what this symbolizes."

11 of 17

Encouraging Women's Education

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. Phil Noble/PA Images via Getty

During Meghan and Prince Harry's 2018 tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, the Duchess of Sussex took the mic at the University of the South Pacific for her first royal tour speech, focusing on the topic of education.

"Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education they want, but more importantly the education they have the right to receive," she said. "And for women and girls in developing countries, this is vital."

"When girls are given the right tools to succeed, they can create incredible futures, not only for themselves but for all of those around them. And while progress has been made in many areas across the Commonwealth, there is always scope to offer more opportunities to the next generation of young adults, and specifically to young women."

12 of 17

Empowering Other Women

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Meghan Markle. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

During Meghan and Prince Harry's 2019 visit to South Africa, she gave an inspiring speech.

"On one personal note, may I just say that while I am here with my husband as a member of the royal family, I want you to know that for me, I am here as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color and as your sister. I am here with you, and I am here for you."

13 of 17

Raising Important Issues

While spending time in Canada in early 2020, Meghan visited Justice for Girls, a nonprofit in Vancouver that promotes equality and health for teens living in poverty.

During the 90-minute visit, as they talked about everything from female leadership skills to the rights of indigenous women, Meghan "was listening intently," Annabel Webb, the group's co-founder, tells PEOPLE. Adds co-director Zoe Craig-Sparrow, "We all felt at ease, and I think that was a testament to the duchess. She said it was important for her to get to know the local context around the issues in the communities."

14 of 17

Continuing Women's Right to Vote

In a backyard chat with Gloria Steinem, Meghan spoke about the representation of women at the polls ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Meghan said, "I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did and that it allows you to reflect on who inspires you to vote as we approach this upcoming election. Your voice matters. Please use it."

15 of 17

Sending Women Inspiration

Meghan sent personalized notes of encouragement to women who received support from Smart Works, a U.K. charity she patrons that helps unemployed women in need with clothing and training for job interviews, in March 2021.

16 of 17

Mentoring the Next Generation

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. NDZ/Star Max/GC Images

In March 2021, Meghan and Prince Harry surprised a teenage girl with a virtual mentoring session. "It was really significant for her because they saw her potential in a few short minutes, which actually really undid some damage that had been previously caused by a former teacher's doubt," L.A. Works Executive Director Deborah Brutchey told PEOPLE. "It was just amazing how they were able to connect and how their compassion, in just a short conversation, really made an impact and is going to forever inspire her."

17 of 17

Prince Harry's a Feminist, Too!

Prince Harry and Meghan
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Dia Dipasupil/Getty

During her chat with Gloria Steinem, Meghan noted, "It's not mutually exclusive to be a feminist and be feminine."

Steinem then replied, "Well, you can be a feminist and be masculine and a guy."

"Like my husband!" Meghan said. "I love that when he just came in he said, 'You know that I'm a feminist too, right Gloria?! It's really important to me that you know that.' "

Meghan also spoke about how Prince Harry will be a positive influence on their son, Archie.

"I look at our son and what a beautiful example that he gets to grow up with a father who is so comfortable owning that as part of his own self-identification," she said. "That there's no shame in being someone who advocates for fundamental human rights for everyone, which of course includes women."

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