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

“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 over 40,000 young people in 172 countries today, when they joined Duchess Meghan for a major keynote speech at the virtual 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit.

On July 14, the Duchess of Sussex spoke 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 UN 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 continued, 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.”

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

Encouraging each and every attendee of the three-day summit, who is 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 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 unfair. The hardest part—and it was the hardest part for me—is to chase your convictions with action.”

But the royal also spoke of how impressed she was at those that have been mobilizing their own initiatives and projects, including the Girl Up members who have organized 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.”

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.”

A source close to the duchess 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’.”

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 large groups 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.”

The duchess has been following the Girl Up summit since its first day on July 13, where Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of girl’s 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,” a source close to Meghan tells BAZAAR. “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.”

Concluding her remarks, and the “Time Is Now” Women in Leadership plenary session, Meghan gave one final motivational boost to the young people watching. “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.

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