by Sara M. Moniuszko, USA TODAY, Contributions by Charles Taney
The former first lady and the Duchess of Sussex were both announced as speakers at the three-day 2020 Girl Up Leadership Summit. Girl Up is a United Nations Foundation initiative, which aims to unite girls to change the world.
This year’s summit is the biggest yet, with nearly 40,000 attendees aged 13 to 22 across 172 countries.
Duchess Meghan gave a speech at the summit on Tuesday. Speaking remotely, the Duchess of Sussex described in a video how young people are “demanding to own the conversation.”
“Girl Up members are organizing Black Lives Matter protests around the world,” she said. “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.”
The duchess added that young people have never been more urgently needed and offered advice for doing what you believe is right.
“Look, sometimes it’s not obvious what to do,” she said. “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.”
She continued: “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.”
In a video message Monday, Obama said that although she wishes everyone could be in-person for this year’s summit, she is “so thankful that Girl Up has found a way to keep us connected and celebrate the power of girls all over the world.”
“Over these past few months, there’s been so much uncertainty. You all are dealing with serious loss in your own families and abrupt changes to your daily lives, especially when it comes to your educations,” she continued. “But you all have showed incredible resilience in difficult circumstances before. Your determination over so many years has already helped countless girls create a brighter future for themselves and their families.”
She added that girls can’t be “forgotten during this crisis.”
“Because when we give girls the chance to learn, we give them the opportunity to fulfill their potential, build healthier families, and contribute to their countries, economies,” she explained. “
Obama also spoke about the importance behind the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation.
“Because we believe that the millions of adolescent girls around the world who aren’t in school today can make a profound difference for their families, their communities and our entire world, but only if they have the opportunity and the education to get it done,” she said.
The virtual summit continues through July 15, where more special guests will give speeches, including Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuk.
Earlier this month, Meghan spoke candidly about racism alongside husband Prince Harry during a video discussion with members of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
The discussion also focused on how young people can help make changes.
“You are the next generation of leadership which this world so desperately needs as it goes through this healing process,” Harry said.
Meghan added, “There’s nothing that’s stopping you now, knowing that you have the attention of the world.”