Among the many losses visited upon American society as the result of a global pandemic, there has a been a profound lack of economic security, particularly for women. As The Root has previously reported (and reminded you just yesterday for Black Women’s Equal Pay Day), women left the workforce in droves in 2020, often forced to choose between their jobs and becoming full-time caregivers for their children, particularly as furloughs and layoffs became the norm. And unsurprisingly, Black women and Latinas fared the worst amid the economic fallout, with 154,000 Black women dropping out of the workforce in December alone.
“Women are bearing the brunt of the dual public health and economic crises of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in America’s first Shecession,” Interim CEO and COO, YWCA USA Elisha Rhodes explained in a press release provided to The Root. “The ongoing pandemic has inflicted widespread economic pain, but women—and especially women of color—have been at a particular disadvantage, as the current economic crisis is layered on policy that has institutionalized gender inequity. In order to achieve economic security and equity in the workforce, women need a strong support system and access to well-paying, stable jobs, and comprehensive child care solutions,” she added.
Obviously, Meghan Markle wasn’t one of those women; in fact, 2020 was likely the most lucrative to date in the actress-turned-Duchess of Sussex’s lifetime, as she and husband Prince Harry inked a series of reported nine-digit deals, including partnerships with Netflix, Spotify and, in 2021, Random House.
Nevertheless, the couple has maintained that philanthropy and public service will be at the core of their new lives as non-senior royals. In 2020, they launched the Archewell Foundation as “an impact-driven non-profit”; the couple’s lucrative streaming deals existing under the subsequently created mantles Archewell Productions and Archewell Audio. And in celebration of Meghan’s 40th birthday on Wednesday, both the foundation and the mother of two are asking her supporters to pay it forward with the 40x40 initiative, a partnership with YWCA “to empower women reentering the workforce” through community service and mentorship.
Giving her own take on the ongoing economic impact of the COVID crisis, Meghan explained the initiative in a special message on the Archewell site, asking: “What if we each gave 40 minutes of service?”:
In reflecting on my 40th birthday and the many things I am grateful for, I’m struck that TIME IS AMONG OUR GREATEST AND MOST ESSENTIAL GIFTS: Time with our loved ones, time doing the things we love, time spent learning, laughing, growing, and the sacred time we have on this earth. Amongst the most valuable gifts of time is also time spent in service to others knowing that it can contribute to incredible change. To that last point, and with my 40th lap around the sun in mind, it made me wonder: what would happen if we all committed 40 minutes to helping someone else or to mentoring someone in need? And then what would happen if we asked our friends to do the same?
In the past two years, and in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TENS OF MILLIONS OF women around the world have left the workforce, including over two million women in the U.S. So many of these women are also SHOULDERING THE BRUNT OF THE CRISIS when it comes to unpaid labor, including schooling and caring for family members. And the latest research shows that FEWER WOMEN THAN MEN WILL REGAIN WORK as we recover from the pandemic.
I believe mentorship is one way to help women regain confidence and rebuild their economic strength, and for my birthday, I have asked 40 friends, activists, athletes, artists, and world leaders to help kickoff a global effort by contributing 40 MINUTES OF MENTORSHIP to support women re-entering the workforce. With this time, I hope they each help someone advance a professional life on her own terms, and, I hope that they inspire countless others to give 40 minutes of their time as well.
If you are able, please JOIN US and pledge 40 minutes today in service of others in the way that feels right to you. The time that you donate can contribute to a GLOBAL WAVE OF SERVICE and set in motion meaningful impact in our own communities, and across the world.
To kick off the initiative, the duchess taped a cheeky video with actress-comedian Melissa McCarthy—complete with a comedic cameo from Prince Harry. (Wait for it...)
There was even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a framed photo of newborn daughter Lilibet Diana being kissed by her father. (No really, don’t blink; you will miss it. Honestly, we’re not even sure if we really saw it.) If you happen not to catch it, you’ll no doubt note the diamond-studded astrological tributes to both of the Sussex children around Meghan’s neck.
As for Meghan’s other plans for her 40th, she will reportedly follow birthday-mate Barack Obama’s lead in having a relatively low-key celebration for this milestone birthday, despite earlier reports that she’d be “having a grand bash with Oprah Winfrey’s A-list party planner Colin Cowie at the helm” (h/t Page Six). And in case you’re wondering, yes, Buckingham Palace did wish Meghan a happy 40th, posting a tribute on social media including a picture of Meghan and Queen Elizabeth II—whose mother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was also born on this day in 1900.
Cute coincidence (and perhaps some explanation for the affinity between the queen and the duchess), but what we’re really here for is the use of the massive Archewell platform to prompt what Markle and YWCA hope will be “a global wave of compassion and positive change.” To join the conversation, follow @YWCAUSA on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and use the hashtags #40X40 #CompassionInAction and #EmpoweredWomenEmpowerWomen. To learn how you can contribute 40 minutes of your time, visit the 40x40 page at YWCA.