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What Meghan Markle's latest charity announcement tells us about her

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Moya Crockett
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The Duchess of Sussex has announced her role as patron of four important organisations – and they’re aligned perfectly with her interests in women’s empowerment, animal rights, education and the arts.

Since marrying Prince Harry, Meghan Markle has had to walk a difficult tightrope. While she is obliged to adhere to (frequently incomprehensible) rules about how duchesses should behave, she clearly has no interest in submerging her individual identity into that of the royal family.

And that’s understandable. For an intelligent, stylish, politically-minded woman who built a successful career from scratch over the course of 15 years, it can’t be easy to be criticised for wearing dark nail polish, closing a car door, or crossing your legs the wrong way. It must be even more frustrating to be restricted from expressing your views on social issues, and to have to contend with demeaning, vindictive, racially-coded tabloid headlines that pit you against your sister-in-law.

Despite all this, the Duchess of Sussex has so far navigated the obstacle course of royal life with style. She has made clear exactly who she is and what she stands for, without rocking the royal boat so much that the Queen keels over. And that clearly-defined sense of identity is evident in Meghan’s choices of patronages, which were announced by Kensington Palace on 10 January.

The Duchess of Sussex has maintained her own identity since marrying into the royal family 

It’s standard procedure for members of the royal family to become patrons of charities and organisations, a system that benefits both sides of the relationship: the group gets priceless publicity, while the royal is able to support a cause close to their heart. Prince Harry, for example, is a patron of several wildlife, military and sports charities, while Princess Eugenie is a patron of the European School of Osteopathy, in recognition of the life-changing back surgery she had aged 12.

Fittingly, Meghan’s four patronages – the first she has taken up as the Duchess of Sussex – encompass her interests in women’s empowerment through work, fashion, animal rights, education and the arts.

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The first organisation recognised by the Duchess though patronage is Smart Works, a charity that provides unemployed women with a free new wardrobe and one-on-one coaching for job interviews. When women re-enter the workplace, they are able to join the Smart Works Network, a group that meets every month to further their professional and personal development.

“We are thrilled to announce that the Duchess of Sussex will become the Royal Patron of Smart Works,” said Lady Hughes-Hallett, Smart Works’ chair and founder.

“An acknowledged champion of women and their rights worldwide, the Duchess will motivate ever more women to come to our centres and get the job that will transform their lives. The Duchess’ patronage will inspire the women we serve and help them reach for the stars.” 

The Duchess of Sussex speaks during a visit to the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, October 2018

Meghan has also become the royal patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which supports the development of further education in Commonwealth nations around the world. The Duchess’ interest in higher education was evident during her recent royal tour with Prince Harry, when she addressed a crowd of students at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

After describing her own experience at university, Meghan said there was “scope to offer more [educational] opportunities to the next generation of young adults” across the Commonwealth – “specifically to young women”. 

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Mayhew, an animal welfare charity that works to improve the lives of dogs and cats in communities in the UK and around the world, will be supported by the Duchess of Sussex’s patronage, as will the National Theatre.

Meghan inherited the patronage of the National Theatre from the Queen – a gesture intended to acknowledge her previous career as an actor, and encourage young people to develop an interest in the theatrical arts.

In a statement, Kensington Palace said that the Duchess had held meetings and conducted private visits with each of these organisations over the last 12 months.

“Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex will become patron of four organisations that reflect the causes and issues with which she has long been associated including the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare,” said a spokesman.

Shining a spotlight on the good work of charities and cultural organisations is one of the ways that members of the royal family can make a real difference to society. We have no doubt that the Duchess of Sussex will carry out her patronage roles with aplomb – and if she somehow manages to p**s off Piers Morgan in the process, so much the better.

Images: Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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