Prince Harry, In His Most Feminist Moment To Date, Gave A Rousing Speech Championing Gender Equality

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When it comes to articles about the British Royal family, an overwhelming amount are about Princess Katherine Middleton as she has become a fashion obsession for people around the globe ever since her marriage to HRH Prince William. So when we came across the news of young sibling Prince Harry and his visit to Nepal, it intrigued us, specifically because of a speech he gave during the Nepal Girls Summit.

As part of an official Royal visit to the country where he met with activist organizations, men, women, children, those affected by the devastating earthquakes in 2015, as well as recently elected Prime Minister Bidhya Devi (the country’s first female prime minister, no less) he gave a speech talking about the importance of championing gender equality and why men need to be an integral part of this fight.

He opened the speech praising President Devi for being a champion of women’s rights for many years and stated it was a privilege to share the stage with her. His own charity, Sentebale, has helped thousands of poverty-stricken children across Africa gain access to education over the past decade, and he recognizes the far-reaching effects of educating a child, versus not educating them.

“I have seen first hand the transformational effect of even the smallest opportunity in keeping a child away from gangs, keeping them in school, and on track to a more fulfilling and prosperous life,” he said. Prince Harry admitted he had never previously seen just how much more girls are left behind and negatively impacted by the lack of education, especially in cultures where women and girls are held back by traditions that view them as less than equal to men.

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“While the unique challenges faced by girls is not a topic I have spoken much about in the past, I think it’s important to acknowledge something that has become obvious to me and is already known to everyone in this room: there are way too many obstacles between girls and the opportunities they deserve…we need to acknowledge that so many countries and cultures are failing to protect the opportunities of young women and girls in the way they do for boys,” he said.

There are some incredible female role models around the world who have enabled many of us to become keenly aware of how girls are at a grave disadvantage when it comes to education being the foundation of opportunity in life, and Prince Harry wants to see more men speaking up just as loudly as some of these women.

“I believe it is vitally important for men like me to acknowledge this as loudly and openly as role models do like President Bhandari, the US First Lady Michelle Obama and activists like Malala…We won’t unlock these opportunities for young women and girls unless we can change the mindset of every family and community. To achieve this, it cannot just be women who speak up for girls,” he said.

Michelle Obama launched the Let Girls Learn initiative through the White House in 2015, which is a global program identifying ways in which activist organizations, supported by the US Government, can help close the gender gap in countries where education among girls is not always seen as a cultural priority.

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Of course, we are all familiar with Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban at age 14 simply for encouraging girls in her community to pursue education. Since recovering and moving to the UK for her safety, Malala has gone on to win a Nobel Peace prize, speak at the UN, and has become a cultural phenomenon and a powerful vehicle for the plight of girls education in countries like her own.

Prince Harry says the numbers alone should give us all pause for thought as to just how big the gender gap is in terms of access to education and how that has a deep impact for the rest of a woman’s life – girls who marry young are less likely to leave home, are less likely to finish school and more likely to get caught in a cycle of illiteracy, poverty, ill health and, ultimately, powerlessness

“Globally, 62 million girls are not getting the education they deserve. Two thirds of the nearly 800 million people who were never taught to read and write are women. Around the world, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children and nearly 250 million of them were married before the age of 15. Here in Nepal, nearly half of all women who are today in their twenties, thirties and forties were married before their eighteenth birthdays. And a little under half gave birth while still in their teens,” he stated.

There are numerous studies that show access to education, especially for girls in rural and poverty-stricken areas, is not only a benefit for an individual, but also for a community and ultimately the economy. For every additional year of schooling a girl gets beyond elementary school, her potential to earn increases anywhere between 10-15%. The world is waking up to the fact that focusing on women’s economic empowerment, which starts with education at its very foundation, is going to go along way to alleviating poverty, which is why gender equality is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the UN in 2015.

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“Improved access to education can transform lives, families, communities and ultimately entire countries. When girls finish their schooling, they gain skills, knowledge and confidence – in short; they are empowered to improve their lives and the lives of everyone around them,” said Prince Harry.

He concluded by stating his admiration for the way people in Nepal are embracing the idea of gender equality as evidenced by the first female President and Speaker of the House being elected.

“But the biggest reason for our optimism are the inspiring girls and boys in this room who care so much about changing attitudes towards young women in this country,” he concluded.

This is what we need to see more of: men understanding and championing the fight for gender equality. The truth is everyone benefits when we all have access to equal opportunities and we are not held back by our gender, skin color, socio-economic background, religion, or any other factor. We hope Prince Harry’s words will resonate deeply with those who follow his work and are passionate about the same causes as him. A feminist in the British Royal family, who would’ve thought?!

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