Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, took the virtual stage at the U.N. Foundation’s 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit Tuesday, marking her first major speech since she and husband Prince Harry stepped away from their royal duties earlier this year.
The international event gave the 38-year-old keynote speaker the opportunity to greet girls across the globe with an empowering message.
The former Meghan Markle addressed “young women around the world who aren’t just poised to change the world, but have already begun changing the world,” and she informed them that they have even more leverage in that world than they realize.
“I want to share something with you,” she said. “It’s that those in the halls and corridors and places of power — from lawmakers and 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. To not only frame the debate but be in charge of the debate — on racial justice, gender, climate change, mental health and well-being, on civic engagement, on public service, on so much more. That’s the work you’re already out there doing.”
And that’s the work she believes the next generation of women can do like no other before, by reimagining and reframing the status quo — especially those who are already benefiting from programs like Girl Up, which supports U.N. agencies that focus on adolescent girls.
“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,” she told them. “You are standing up and demanding to be heard, yes, but you’re also demanding to own the conversation.”
But Meghan didn’t simply use the forum to applaud what girls are already doing. She also offered advice about the work that still needs to be done.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
While Tuesday’s address was Meghan’s first major speaking engagement since officially retreating from royal duties in March, she’s remained busy in the wake of what many dubbed “Megxit,” despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In March, she reached out to a woman looking for work via video call for a pep talk. In June, she had stirring words for the graduating class of her high school alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. And earlier this month, she was joined by Harry to discuss racial injustice with young leaders and activists.
Her ongoing work stresses the most important part of her message to girls: The vital thing to do is to start doing something.
“Look, sometimes it’s not obvious what to do,” she told those gathered for the Girl Up summit. “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 the answers. 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.”