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Sophie Wessex heads overseas on surprise secret visit: Details

Prince Edward's wife is abroad at the request of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

sophie wessex smile

The Duchess of Edinburgh has an increasingly busy royal schedule, but her latest engagement is especially personal.  

Buckingham Palace has confirmed that Sophie is currently in Iraq as she continues to champion the survivors of conflict related sexual violence.

The mother-of-two has already spent two days in Baghdad, where she heard about the challenges facing Iraqi women and girls, and the ongoing work to protect and promote their rights.

Duchess Sophie wearing an unexpected crossbody bag© Shutterstock
Sophie has headed to Iraq for an unannounced visit

Sophie spent time at a high school for girls and spoke to students and teachers about education for young women in the country, and their hopes for the future.

The Duchess also visited a family planning centre where she saw first-hand the work being carried out to support the reproductive health and wellbeing of Iraqi women, and met women business leaders to discuss the importance of women’s economic empowerment.

Sophie speaks to a sexual violence survivor and campaigner on a previous visit to Sierra Leone© Jonathan Brady - PA Images
Sophie speaks to a sexual violence survivor and campaigner on a previous visit to Sierra Leone

The unannounced trip was made at the request of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in support of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS), the Palace said.

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And her visit has been particularly well received. While in Baghdad, Sophie was received by the President of Iraq, Abdul Latif Rashid and the First Lady, during which she shared a message of greeting from His Majesty King Charles.

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The Duchess was also received by Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al Sudani.

The issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is a subject close to Sophie's heart. Here she is seen hugging a survivor during a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo© Jane Barlow - PA Images
The issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is a subject close to Sophie's heart. Here she is seen hugging a survivor during a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo

Sophie is following in the footsteps of her brother-in-law, King Charles. He became the first member of the Royal Family to visit Iraq in 2004 when, as Prince of Wales, he visited military personnel in Basra.

In 2006, Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, made a surprise trip to see British troops in Basra when he was 85.

The issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is a subject close to Sophie's heart.

She has campaigned on the issue for many years, travelling to countries including Kosovo, Lebanon, South Sudan and Sierra Leone to meet women peacebuilders and survivors of sexual violence.

The Duchess meets medical staff and survivors at a hospital in the Congo to see first-hand the critical medical treatment provided to those who have endured brutal, conflict-related sexual violence and trauma© Jane Barlow - PA Images
The Duchess at a hospital in the Congo to see first-hand the critical medical treatment provided to those who have endured brutal, conflict-related sexual violence and trauma

In June last year, Sophie spoke about the profound impact of hearing accounts of sexual violence first hand, admitting she had been "in floods of tears".

"When you hear somebody's story of gang rape and literally physically what has happened to them, it absolutely brings you to your knees," Sophie said in a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio 5 Live's Nada Munchetty.

And during a London School of Economics webinar discussing promoting peace after conflicts, Sophie spoke candidly about “tears dripping off your chin” when speaking to survivors of sexual violence. Watch the moving clip below...

Sophie Wessex discusses sexual violence victims

“To hear their stories, you know when you’ve got tears dripping off your chin, I mean you just, you can’t help but weep with them because they are so terrible, these stories,” Sophie shared.

She added: “It really is heartbreaking and I’ve gone to some very dark places, you know, internally.

“But I’m not living it and therefore if they can survive, if they can put one foot in front of the other, then for goodness’ sake of course I can.”

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