Duchess of Sussex marked International Women's Day in Dagenham

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent
The duchess with some of the schoolchildren at the Dagenham school. (Press Association)

The Duchess of Sussex has revealed her secret visit to a secondary school in Dagenham was to mark International Women’s Day.

Meghan was seen at the Robert Clack Upper School on Friday, but no details were released of her visit.

Now, Buckingham Palace has confirmed she made the visit for International Women’s Day, choosing the area because of its connection to the Ford plant, where women went on strike for equal pay in 1968.

The strike eventually led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970. The duchess was joined by one of the women who went on strike, Geraldine Dear.

Meghan gave a speech in an assembly in what is likely to be her final solo royal engagement.

She said: “When we thought about what I wanted to do for International Women’s Day this year, for me it was incredibly important to be with the women of our future.

“And that is all of the young women here, as well as the young men who play a very large part in this.

“Specifically coming to your school made a lot of sense for me because of this social justice and the impact that it’s rooted in.”

Read more: International Women's Day: The Royal Family's most feminist moments

She challenged “one young man” to come to the stage and say what International Women’s Day meant to him, a challenged taken up by the school’s head boy, Aker Okoye.

He appeared to kiss her on the cheek when he greeted her, and was given a hug and praised for his confidence after he spoke.

Okoye, 16, had told his fellow pupils that "she really is beautiful, innit" as he joined her on the stage.

The duchess continued: “I think what’s really key for all of you to remember is especially looking at the people who have paved the way for you to get to this point in your lives and be able to have the access that you do, it’s not just an opportunity to continue that, it’s a responsibility.

“So I just encourage and empower each of you to really stand in your truth, to stand for what is right, to continue to respect each other, for you young men to continue to value and appreciate the women in your lives and also set the example for some men who are not seeing it that same way.”

The duchess gave a speech to mark International Women's Day. (Press Association)
She hugged Aker after he took on her challenge. (Press Association)

Read more: Duke and Duchess of Sussex get standing ovation at Mountbatten Festival of Music

Closing with remarks which could be seen to reflect the sentiment of the statement made by Prince Harry when she was first revealed to be his girlfriend, she told men to protect the women in their lives.

She said: “You have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life, protect them. Make sure that they are feeling valued and safe and let’s all just rally together to make International Women’s Day something that is not just on Sunday, but frankly feels like every day of the year.”

Speaking afterwards, Aker, 16, said: “I just had to stand up, I had to look around because I wasn’t sure if there was anybody else. I thought to myself, this day means so much to me, it’d be an insult for me not to speak.”

He continued: “It means a lot to have her here because it’s not every day that you’ll meet someone from the royal family.

“With all the negative news and everything that’s spread such as the coronavirus and whatnot, it’s heart-warming to see there’s still good in the world and we can still celebrate our achievements.”

The Duchess of Sussex (centre) poses with school children making the 'equality' sign following a school assembly. (Press Association)

Read more: Meghan Markle says it's 'nice' to be back as she joins Prince Harry at Endeavour Fund awards

The struggle for equal pay in the Ford Motor Factory was depicted in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham.

It came about when the mostly female sewing machinists were classed as working in an unskilled job, meaning they were not paid the same as men in the other departments.

One of those who made history with the strike, Dear, said: “She said it was an honour to meet me and I said it was the other way around. I said the girls should believe in themselves.

“I did ask her how Archie is and she said to me he’s 10 months old today and he’s just trying to walk.”

Meghan was joined at the day’s events by Olivia Collins, 18, who spoke about her experiences as a working-class young woman from the borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Afterwards, she told the Press Association: “It’s a huge thing to have our borough, which is often overlooked, recognised by someone so huge in the media and somebody who many people believe is a symbol of female autonomy, is a symbol of a powerful woman who is not afraid to do what she wants, which is best for her and her family.”

The Duchess of Sussex is greeted by pupils at the Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham. (Press Association)
The Duchess of Sussex is presented with a school jacket as she joins in a discussion of the 'Senior Debate Squad'. (Press Association)

Read more: Harry and Meghan will join royals at Commonwealth Day service - but Andrew won't

Fiona Addai and Harvi Shehi, both 11, were chosen to greet the duchess.

Fiona said: “First I got told that it was a lady, but when she pulled up, when she was coming out I thought it would be Kate by the hair, then she came out, she’s my biggest idol so I was really happy to see her.

“I was so happy, I thought I was going to faint because she’s my biggest idol and I really love her.”

Harvi added: “I was amazed because I thought it was going to be a male but it turned out to be Meghan, which was fabulous to see as well because it wasn’t expected.”

The royal couple will release more material from the visit throughout Sunday on their Instagram.

Footage and photos emerged on Friday afternoon of Meghan at the school, but no announcement of the visit had been made.

It followed another secret visit, to the National Theatre in London, of which she will remain a patron even after she and Harry step back from their senior royal roles.

Read more: Meghan Markle wears £29 Topshop blouse for private National Theatre visit

The Sussexes confirmed the details after the theatre visit on their Instagram.

Meghan shared details of Friday’s visit on Instagram on Saturday, after she and Harry attended the Mountbatten Festival of Music at the Royal Albert Hall.

The couple was given a standing ovation as they took their seats.

Harry was in attendance in his role as Captain General of the Royal Marines. After 31 March, he will not use his honorary military roles, but will retain the titles and ranks he earned while in the military.

The roles will not be reallocated to other members of the Royal Family immediately. A decision is likely to come in April 2021, at the 12 month review stage for the Sussexes.

Harry and Meghan are likely to return to Canada after the Commonwealth Day Service on 9 March, their final engagement as senior royals.

They will pay back the renovation work on Frogmore Cottage, where they have been staying while back in the UK, and will stop using their HRH stylings.

They will also not be able to use the word royal, meaning an end to the brand Sussex Royal.