Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry join Malala Yousafzai for special chat marking the International Day of the Girl

By Zach Harper

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl, which aims to raise awareness of the inequalities girls are still facing around the world. Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry joined activist Malala Yousafazai for an important conversation to mark the special day and highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional issues around girls' access to education.

Nobel Prize laureate Malala and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have all been huge champions of ensuring girls can go to school around the world. The 23-year-old famously fought for her own education in Pakistan and survived an assassination attempt when she was 15. She went on to attend Oxford, from which she graduated this past spring.

Malala began the conversation by sharing that she thought she was "lucky" to have a father who encouraged her to go to school. Meghan and Harry agreed that they'd both been fortunate to have received the education they did, and the duchess added that raising Archie has further highlighted this for them.

"You know, having the privilege of being able to go to school is something that, I think, oftentimes is taken for granted," she said. "It's very difficult for a lot of people to recognize that just the ability to have a schoolbook is a luxury for so many people. And to have grown up where books were plentiful and I could whet my appetite and continue to learn when I was within the grounds of the school or when I was back home."

About 130 million girls worldwide face barriers that prevent them from going to school. Malala is a passionate activist working to remove those blocks, and Meghan and Harry have also done extensive work around the gender gap in education.

Meghan studied at Northwestern University and double majored in theatre and international studies. In 2016, she visited Rwanda as a Global Ambassador for World Vision Canada. While there, she spent time with children at a school that had been given clean water through a pipeline set up by the charity. At the time, she pointed out that access to clean drinking water keeps girls in school "because they aren't waling hours each day to source water for families."

The following year, Meghan also travelled to India on World Vision's behalf, where she spoke about how inadequate access to bathrooms prevents girls from attending school. She also wrote an editorial about her trip, which ran in TIME magazine the same year, in which she wrote that stigma surrounding menstrual health is one of the biggest blocks preventing girls from going to school.

Through the Queen's Commonwealth Fund, Meghan and Harry have been heavily involved with the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), which aims to eradicate poverty throughout the African continent by ensuring girls and women have access to education. When the couple travelled to Southern Africa on their 2019 tour, Harry stopped in to a CAMFED project in Malawi, and Meghan joined his visit through video chat.

In the Sussexes' conversation with Malala, Meghan pointed out that fixing girls' access to education actually helps fix multiple other problems.

"Part of the reason that I did the work in India, and also some work in Rwanda, as well, was to look at learning and education for young women," she shared. "And then, separately, to look at the hindrances that women in India were facing with menstrual health management and the stigmatization of that really inhibiting them from being able to go to school. And that alone creates a ripple effect for your entire life."

Harry has long been an advocate for environmentalism and recently founded Travalyst, an initiative that aims to promote sustainable practices in the travel industry. Malala asked Harry how he thought girls' education could help tackle climate change.

"Again, with an education, it provides money, it provides an income, which makes less susceptible to disaster, less consumption," he said. "So all of these things are so deeply connected to one another that the education at a young age opens up so many doors and so many opportunities and so many possibilities.

"And whether it's within science, whether it's within government, women are needed more and more to be able to fill those gaps because the opportunity is vast, and I think that – well, we know that the world will benefit exponentially from it."

Meghan asked Malala about what it was like to graduate from Oxford during the COVID-19 pandemic. The youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner said she found the period "very difficult" because she didn't like being away from friends and missing the in-person experience of being in school. But she added that she knew how fortunate she was to be able to participate in education at home. She said she was "more worried about" girls who don't have those opportunities.

"COVID has made things worse," she said. "We cannot ignore this. This is an emergency right now. This is a crisis right now. We need to ensure that in this time we do not ignore the issue of girls' education. Even in these global gatherings and meetings, the issue of girls' education is hardly mentioned.

"People are not talking about women's safety and protection anymore. And there's no actual commitment towards girls' education and women's protection and empowerment. So it's really important that we keep on pushing for this, so we ensure that girls do not miss out on their education, they do not drop out, that they are able to return safely to school."

She shared how the Malala Fund's activists have been adapting to the reality of COVID-19 to ensure girls "don't miss out" on their education by doing things such as using radio to help girls with lessons and courses in Nigeria.

The conversation ended with Malala asking the couple how they've been spending their time in lockdown.

"On Zoom calls!" Harry laughed.

"But outside of that, with our little one," Meghan said, also laughing.

"We were both there for his first steps, his first run, his first fall, his first everything," doting dad Harry shared. "And it's just fantastic because I thin in so many ways, we are fortunate to be able to have this time to watch him grow, and in the absence of COVID, we would be travelling and working more externally, and we'd miss a lot of those moments. So I think, it's been a lot of really good family time."

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