Feminism and a touch of Māori: Meghan wows Kiwis
Duchess quotes leading New Zealand suffragette in a speech on the subject closest to her heart
The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has delivered a major speech on the issue closest to her heart, as she makes a plea for global equality and declares: “Feminism is about fairness.”
The duchess, who spoke at a reception in New Zealand celebrating 125 years of votes for women, condemned the marginalisation of people on the grounds of “race, gender ethnicity or orientation” in a short but forceful address to guests.
Congratulating the country for leading the world in women’s suffrage a full 25 years before Britain, she quoted New Zealand suffragette Kate Sheppard, saying: “All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.”
In an introduction, the duchess also tried out a few words of te reo Māori, winning cheers as she greeted them with the words: “Tēnā koutou katoa.”
“In looking forward to this very special occasion, I reflected on the importance of this achievement, but also the larger impact of what this symbolises,” the duchess said. “Because yes, women’s suffrage is about feminism, but feminism is about fairness. “Suffrage is not simply about the right to vote, but also about what that represents: the basic and fundamental human right of being able to participate in the choices for your future and that of your community. “The involvement and the voice that allows you to be a part of the very world you are a part of.
“And women’s suffrage is not simply about the right to vote for women, but also what that represents: the basic and fundamental human right of all people, including those members of society who have been marginalised, whether for reasons of race, gender ethnicity or orientation, to be able to participate in the choices for their future and their community.
“So bravo New Zealand for championing this right 125 years ago ... We all deeply thank you.”
She finished the short speech by saying: “In the words of your suffragette, Kate Sheppard: ‘All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.’”
The duke, Prince Harry, and duchess were invited to the event by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who asked them to attend the function with about 100 women chosen from local communities who are continuing to fight for women’s rights.
The evening got off to a false start after Government House had to be evacuated just moments before the duke and duchess were due to be officially welcomed. As they were getting ready in an upstairs room at the sprawling mansion, built in 1910, an unidentified person set off a smoke alarm in a downstairs toilet.
An official said later it was believed to have been “steam or some form of atomiser”, perhaps an aerosol can, that had caused the false alarm. After a 20-minute delay, the duke and duchess were greeted by the leader of the opposition, Simon Bridges, and his wife, Natalie, before spending about 20 minutes chatting to Ardern, New Zealand’s third female prime minister. They were welcomed my Dame Patsy Reddy, also the third woman to take up her post. Dame Reddy paid tribute to Sheppard and heralded her contribution to the country’s and the world’s suffrage history. She said: “Kate Sheppard is our Emmeline Pankhurst.
“Under her leadership, New Zealand women were the first in the world to achieve the right to vote – 25 years before the United Kingdom and 27 years before the United States.
“Kate Sheppard and her fellow suffragists went door to door and town to town to get signatures for their monster suffrage petition. “They showed the power of women’s words to raise awareness and bring about change.
“Kate was a superb communicator. She used invincible logic in her appeals for justice, fairness and decency.
“She was an effective networker, galvanising other women into action, here and internationally.”
The royals were treated to several traditional performances, including a six-minute rendition from the poet laureate Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh.
The Auckland-based Pacific poet and scholar recited her poem, Lead, about the concept of leadership and what it takes to achieve wellbeing in life. A celebrated high school trio, Le Art, also performed their song, Choose Love. The schoolgirls shot to fame this year when they posted an acapella version of the New Zealand national anthem that received more than one million views on YouTube. The girls called Markle “an inspiration” and said it was “a dream” that she had come to hear them sing. – © Telegraph Media Group Limited