In her first public speech since stepping down from royal duties, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, delivered a passionate address on race, gender, equality and change during the virtual 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit.
She was speaking from her Los Angeles home, sitting in front of the same wall as when she delivered her graduation speech on the Black Lives Matter movement to her old school in LA.
She touched, almost directly, on leaving the royal family during the address.
When talking about "lawmakers, leaders and executives", she said: "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."
She then went on to add, with a knowing laugh, "believe in what makes you unique and don’t be afraid to do what you know is right even when it’s not popular".
Her nine-minute address sought to galvanise those watching. "Keep challenging. Keep pushing," she said. "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 toward real representation and meaningful influence over the structures of decision-making and power."
Far from exclusionary, her talk spoke to girls and boys, men and women, and people from all racial backgrounds.
"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," she said.
"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."
She ended her address by referring to husband, Prince Harry, and their 1-year-old son, Archie, saying: "I will be cheering you on. So will my husband, so will Archie, as you all continue marching, advocating and leading the way forward."
The Duchess of Sussex is just one in a long list of high-profile names to have spoken at the 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit, running from July 13 to 15.
Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and activist and actress Yara Shahidi have already addressed audiences at the digital conference; director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is also slated to speak.
Girl Up was founded by the United Nations Foundation in 2010 with the mission of helping achieve gender equality worldwide.
Read Meghan Markle's Girl Up Leadership Summit speech in full:
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 who have already begun changing the world. Last month, I had a chance to speak to the 2020 class at my high school alma mater which is an all-girls school in Los Angeles. And I said they shouldn't see their graduation as an ending but rather as a beginning, the beginning of a journey where they can harness their work, values, and skills, all the skills that they've learnt, to rebuild the world around them.
Now many of you have already spent years embodying and, yes, even enacting the change you’ve 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 to be in charge of the debate. Upraising justice on gender, climate change, mental health and wellbeing, on civic engagement, on public service, on so much more, that’s the work that you are already out there doing.
Girl Up members are organising Black Lives Matter protests around the world. You’re creating films. You’re creating films that encourage your peers to become activists leaders. You are reforming the criminal justice system. You are telling your school boards we need more mental health resources for all ages. You’re leading coalitions to end gun violence. You are standing up and demanding to be heard, yes. You are also demanding to own the conversation.
Another thing about those lawmakers and leaders and executives that I mentioned earlier: Now many of them that are 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, 'That’s not how it’s done, 'Yeah, that’s a good idea but we’re going to do this instead.' But when do we hear that as women? We hear that in the moments that 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 toward real representation and meaningful influence over the structures of decision-making and power.
Despite what some might say, this reimagining, it’s not a zero-sum game where one side wins and one side loses; not at all. It is mutually beneficial and better for everyone. Because of that, that path to get us 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 that it’s really 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. You understand that our online world has the power to affirm and support as much as it does to harm. But we’re not meant to be breaking each other down. We are meant to be building each other up. So use your voices 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 on the outsized and sometimes they can appear to be painfully loud but you can use your own voice to drown out that noise. Because that’s what it is: It is just noise. But your voices are those of truth and hope, and your voices can and should be much louder.
I know you’ve already done so much and made so many people’s lives better. The moment we’re living through 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 there’s Maya Moore, the WNBA star who 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 were 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 everyday 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 your voices compassionately.
Now compassion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel outrage when we feel blatant injustice all around us. I mean, 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 that it’s our duty 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 a little.
Now under normal circumstances, we would’ve come together in person for this and I wish we could. Yet there’s something interesting about each of you being in your own community right now because our communities are drawing boards for change. They are where your values and beliefs can be manifested and moulded into something tangible. Look, sometimes it’s not obvious what to do. And 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; push through the fear. You have, rooted in your conditions, the ability to craft a world that you know is just and kind. And your gut will tell you what’s right and 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.
You look at the breadth of the issues we are facing right now, it is easy to get overwhelmed, I understand. So be where you are in the moment. The growth and the change that you’re pursuing might not feel like anything on a 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 convictions and the 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.