British royal Meghan Markle sent adoring crowds into a frenzy in Fiji on Wednesday when she took centre stage from husband Prince Harry to passionately promote women’s rights.
The American-born 37-year-old recounted her struggle to afford higher education in her maiden international speech, made to students at the University of the South Pacific.
She also met female traders at the Suva markets, although so many enthusiastic fans were jammed into the venue that her security detail cut short the pregnant duchess’s visit.
Meghan, who married into the royal family five months ago, made the case for open access to education, particularly for women.
“For women and girls in developing countries this is vital,” she said. “Providing them with access to education is the key to economic and social development.
“When girls are given the right tools to succeed they can create incredible futures, not only for themselves, but for all of those around them.”
Meghan, 37, graduated with a communications degree from Northwestern University in Illinois before becoming an actress then marrying Harry earlier this year.
Announcing two grants to encourage female empowerment in Pacific academia, she said higher education for her was “incredible, impactful and pivotal”, despite the challenge of paying for it.
“It was through scholarships, financial aid programmes and work-study — where my earnings from a job on campus went directly towards my tuition — that I was able to attend university,” she said.
“And, without question, it was worth every effort.”
Meghan’s visit to meet women participating in the UN project Markets for Change was curtailed, with Kensington Palace later citing “crowd management issues”
She was calm as bodyguards escorted her out of the markets and into a waiting car without incident.
Rosemerry Dautei, 35, said Fijians were keen to see the visiting royals.
“It is just the excitement… this is an opportunity that has to be grabbed with both hands,” she said.
Meghan’s message resonated with Shayaa Chand, 22, who said: “In today’s era we should support women and we should make them leaders. We are very grateful that Mrs Meghan thinks that way.”
Harry, who attended the elite Eton school and Sandhurst military academy, watched his spouse’s university address with admiration.
“No way I can follow my wife after that,” he said, to laughter from the assembled students.
The prince acknowledged the Pacific’s concerns about climate change, announcing four scholarships to study the issue.
“All of you living here are confronted with this threat in your daily lives,” he said. “You’re actually experiencing changing weather patterns, ferocious cyclones and rising sea levels, particularly in Tuvalu and Kiribati.
“You’ve been living with this for many years, way before the world started talking about it.”
The royal couple, who arrived in Fiji on Tuesday after a week in Australia, appeared relaxed touring the campus, meeting students and pre-school children.
Meghan wore a pink floral wrap dress with a pompom trim, and flowers in her hair, while Harry sported a blue Hawaiian shirt.
The day started on a sombre note for Harry, who attended a ceremony at the Fiji war memorial in Suva.
“In grateful memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country,” he wrote on a note attached to a wreath laid at the memorial.
The royals will travel to Tonga on Thursday before returning briefly to Australia then wrapping up the tour with a visit to New Zealand.