Duchess Meghan Gives Empowering Speech To Young Women: “This Is A Humanity That Desperately Needs You”

The Duchess of Sussex gave a keynote speech via webcam to the more than 40,000 attendees of the Girl Up Leadership Summit

Meghan Markle featured image

“There will always be negative voices and sometimes those voices can appear to be outsized, and sometimes they can appear to be painfully loud. You can and will use your own voices to drown out the noise. Because that’s what it is—just noise.”

Those were the rallying words heard by more than 40,000 young people in 172 countries, when they joined Duchess Meghan for a major keynote speech at the virtual 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit today.

On July 14, the Duchess of Sussex spoke, according to a source close to the royal, unscripted and from the heart on issues of gender equity, racial injustice, youth empowerment, and the importance of creating a healthy digital community during her address, which took place on the second day of the United Nations Foundation event.

“Your generation is often referred to as digital natives, and you understand that our online world has the power to affirm and support as much as it does to harm,” she said, speaking via webcam from her home in Los Angeles. “We are not meant to be breaking each other down; we are meant to be building each other up. So use your voice both on-and-offline to do just that – build each other up, support each other. … Your voices are those of truth. And hope. And your voices can and should be much louder.”

Encouraging each and every attendee of the three-day summit, aged between 13 and 22, to become actively involved in the issues that surround them, she advised, “Look, sometimes it’s not obvious what to do. Often, it’s fear that paralyses us and stops us from being brave and being bold. But don’t underestimate that you have some of those answers within. Don’t underestimate your ability to push through the fear. You have, rooted in your convictions, the ability to craft a world that you know is just and kind. Your gut will tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s fair and unfair. The hardest part—and it was the hardest part for me—is to chase your convictions with action.”

The royal also spoke of how impressed she was with those who have been mobilising their own initiatives and projects, including the Girl Up members who have organised Black Lives Matter protests around the world. “You are creating films to encourage your peers to become activist leaders, you are reforming the criminal justice system, you are telling your school boards we need more mental health resources for all ages, you are leading coalitions to end gun violence. You are standing up and demanding to be heard, yes, but you’re also demanding to own the conversation.”

“We are not meant to be breaking each other down; we are meant to be building each other up.”

She added, “I know you have already done so much and made so many people’s lives better. The moment we are living through right now asks all of us to do more. It’s a moment where your voices, and your action, have never been more urgently needed.”

Speaking about the importance of being an activist for equality, she explained, “Believing in true equality is not enough—it’s going to take more than belief, we have to work for it every day; even when it’s hard and even when it makes others feel uneasy. We have to speak up for ourselves and we have to speak out for others who struggle to be heard.”

The aforementioned source tells BAZAAR.com that the words in her keynote talk simply came from a place of confidence in the next generation of girls and young women having “incredible power” to create change. “They have already shown themselves to be leaders beyond their years on racial justice, climate change, mental health, civic engagement, public service, and much more,” says the source. “They are a generation that is challenging norms, enacting real-world change, and leading global movements. Meghan says that they are not only ‘poised to change the world,’ she believes they have ‘already begun.’”

Related article: The Sussexes Officially Sign With The Obamas And Clintons’ Speaking Agency

Reflecting on the urgency of the next generation, Meghan told attendees, who had all registered to watch via Zoom or YouTube livestreams, that they are “setting the tone for an equitable humanity.” She added, “This is a humanity that desperately needs you. To push it, to push us, forcefully in a more inclusive, more just, and more empathetic direction. To not only frame the debate, but be in charge of the debate—on racial justice, gender, climate change, mental health and wellbeing, on civic engagement, on public service, on so much more. That’s the work you’re already out there doing.”

“The moment we are living through right now asks all of us to do more. It’s a moment where your voices, and your action, have never been more urgently needed.”

With female empowerment as one of the key areas of interest for Meghan, this is the second time the former actress has addressed a large group of young women since moving to Los Angeles in March. In June, she gave a virtual graduation address to her high school. Speaking about the experience, she said in today’s speech, “To young women around the world who aren’t just poised to change the world; but have already begun changing the world. Last month I had the chance to speak to the 2020 class at my high school alma mater, which is an all-girls school in Los Angeles. I said that they shouldn’t see their graduation as an ending, but rather the beginning. The beginning of a journey where they can harness their work, values, and skills—all the skills they’ve learned—to rebuild the world around them.”

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan

Photo: Getty

The duchess has been following the Girl Up summit since its first day on July 13, when Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of girls’ education in a special message. For Meghan, taking part was a no-brainer. “Her message is clear: Girls must be empowered to set the agenda, own the conversation on the issues they care about, and be driving forces for change in communities across the world,” the source tells us. “What she is saying—about reimagining the status quo—reflects what so many young women across the world are already doing. It is a message on how this generation has already positioned itself.”

Related article: Prince Harry And Duchess Meghan Join Young Leaders To Discuss Equal Rights And Justice

Concluding her remarks, and the “Time Is Now” Women in Leadership plenary session, Meghan gave the young people watching one final motivational boost. “If you look at the breadth of the issues we’re facing right now, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, I understand,” she said. “So be where you are in the moment. The growth and change you’re pursuing might not feel like anything day-to-day, but when you look back, I promise you’ll see it all adds up.”

Read the Duchess of Sussex’s full speech transcript below.

It’s such a joy to speak to you today. To young women around the world who aren’t just poised to change the world; but have already begun changing the world. Last month I had the chance to speak to the 2020 class at my high school alma mater, which is an all-girls school in Los Angeles. I said that they shouldn’t see their graduation as an ending, but rather the beginning. The beginning of a journey where they can now harness their work, their values, and skills—all the skills they’ve learned—to rebuild the world around them.

Now, many of you have already spent years embodying—and yes, even enacting—the change you’d like to see in the world. Yet the opportunity that lies ahead for you is the same one that those graduates and millions of young women around the world have as well.

I want to share something with you. It’s that those in the halls and corridors and places of power—from lawmakers to world leaders to executives—all of those people, they depend on you more than you will ever depend on them. And here’s the thing: They know this.

They know that all of you, at a younger age than any modern comparison, are setting the tone for an equitable humanity. Not figuratively, literally. This is a humanity that desperately needs you. To push it, to push us, forcefully in a more inclusive, more just, and more empathetic direction. And to not only frame the debate, but be in charge of the debate—on racial justice, gender, climate change, mental health and wellbeing, on civic engagement, on public service, on so much more. That’s the work you’re already out there doing.

Girl Up members are organizing Black Lives Matter protests around the world, you are creating films to encourage your peers to become activist leaders, you are reforming the criminal justice system, you are telling your school boards we need more mental health resources for all ages, you are leading coalitions to end gun violence. You are standing up and demanding to be heard, yes, but you’re also demanding to own the conversation.

Another thing about those lawmakers and leaders and executives I mentioned earlier. Now many of them, better or worse, they don’t listen until they have to because the status quo is easy to excuse and it’s hard to break. But it will pull tightest right before snapping.

Women have always historically gotten a lot of, “Well, that isn’t how it’s done” or “Yeah, that’s an idea, but let’s do this instead.”

But when do we hear that as women? We hear that in the moments we challenge the norms.

So if that’s the case, I say to you, keep challenging, keep pushing, make them a little uncomfortable. Because it’s only in that discomfort that we actually create the conditions to reimagine our standards, our policies, and our leadership; to move towards real representation and meaningful influence over the structures of decision-making and power.

Despite what some might say, this reimagining is not a zero-sum game, where one side wins and the other side loses. Not at all. It is mutually beneficial and better for everyone.

Because of that, that path to get there will take all of us: it will take girls and women, it will take men and boys, it will take those that are black and those that are white collectively tackling the inequities and structural problems that we know exist.

I believe we are on the precipice of transformation. We can accelerate the pace of change, and you know what? We don’t have to be satisfied with the current speed of progress. What’s more, I think it’s important to acknowledge the paradox of how this progress is both aided and impaired by our digital space. Your generation is often referred to as the digital natives, and you understand that our online world has the power to affirm and support as much as it does to harm. But we are not meant to be breaking each other down; we are meant to be building each other up. So use your voice both on-and-offline to do just that—build each other up, support each other. There will always be negative voices and sometimes those voices can appear to be outsized, and sometimes they can appear to be painfully loud. You can and will use your own voices to drown out the noise. Because that’s what it is—just noise. But your voices are those of truth. And hope. And your voices can and should be much louder.

I know that you have already done so much and made so many people’s lives better. The moment we are living through right now asks all of us to do more. It’s a moment where your voices, and your action, have never been more urgently needed. And we can take inspiration from women like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who brought New Zealand together to swiftly and boldly tackle COVID-19, or Maya Moore, the WNBA star who has sat out from professional basketball since 2019 to free a man who served 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. And those are just two examples, as you well know there are so many others.

Believing in true equality is not enough—it’s going to take more than belief, we have to work for it every day; even when it’s hard, even when it makes others feel uneasy. We have to speak up for ourselves and we have to speak out for others who struggle to be heard.

Like them, I know all of you will use your voices courageously. And I also know that all of you will use them compassionately. Compassion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel anger and outrage when we see blatant injustice all around us—of course we should. But I challenge you to broaden that feeling. The Dalai Lama famously said, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.” Compassion means seeing the pain and suffering of others and knowing it’s our duty to try to help relieve it.

Continue to believe in yourselves, believe in what makes you unique, and don’t be afraid to do what you know is right even when it’s not popular. Even when it’s never been done before. Even if it scares people. And even if it scares you.

Under normal circumstances, we would have come together in person for this and I wish we could. Yet there is something interesting about each of you being in your own community right now. Because our communities are a drawing board for change. They’re where your values and beliefs can be manifested and molded into something tangible.

Look, sometimes it’s not obvious what to do. Often, it’s fear that paralyzes us and stops us from being brave and being bold. But don’t underestimate that you have some of those answers within. Don’t underestimate your ability to push through the fear. You have, rooted in your convictions, the ability to craft a world that you know is just and kind. Your gut will tell you what’s right and what’s wrong; what’s fair and what’s unfair. The hardest part—and it was the hardest part for me—is to chase your convictions with action.

If you look at the breadth of the issues we’re facing right now, it is easy to get overwhelmed, I understand. So be where you are in the moment. The growth and change you’re pursuing might not feel like anything day-to-day, but when you look back, I promise you will see that it all adds up.

We make better communities and a better world for ourselves step-by-step. And the pace of those steps is getting quicker. It’s in looking at the aggregate, looking at the big picture, that you can see how far we’ve progressed.

I am extraordinarily proud of what you’ve already accomplished. Please, continue to honour the conviction and compassion that’s awoken within you.

I will be cheering you on, so will my husband, so will Archie, as you all continue marching, advocating, and leading the way forward.

This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.

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