In her first public speech since her break from the Royal Family earlier this year, Meghan Markle focused on powerful institutions and the importance of challenging established norms, speaking more pointedly and candidly than she could a few months ago.
In a speech at Girl Up’s Leadership Summit on Tuesday, the Duchess of Sussex urged an audience of mostly young, politically active women not to be afraid to make powerful people and establishments “a little uncomfortable.”
“Those in the halls and corridors and places of power, from lawmakers to world leaders and executives — all of those people, they depend on you more than you will ever depend on them,” Meghan said. “And here’s the thing, they know this.”
The current generation of young people is fighting for “justice on gender, climate change, mental health and wellbeing, civic engagement, public service, on so much more,” she said.
“Keep challenging. Keep pushing. Make them a little uncomfortable.”
“Girl Up members are organising Black Lives Matter protests around the world ... You’re reforming the criminal justice system, you’re telling your school boards ‘We need more mental health resources for all ages.’ You’re leading coalitions against gun violence.’”
She mentioned leaders like New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, praising her efforts to “swiftly and boldly” tackle Covid-19. She also praised WNBA player Maya Moore, who sat out more than entire season in order to fight for a Black man who had been wrongfully acquitted of a crime (Jonathan Irons’s conviction was overturned in March, after serving 23 years in jail).
During her nearly 10-minute speech, Meghan returned again and again to the idea of challenging established ideas, something not altogether in line with the way the Royal Family operates.
“Another thing about those lawmakers and leaders and executives I mentioned earlier ... they don’t listen until they have to,” she said. “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 you know what, we’re gonna do this instead.’ But when do we hear that, as women? We hear that in the moments that we challenge the norms,” she went on.
“So if that is 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, our leadership.”
Meghan has previously spoken out about George Floyd’s death. During a virtual speech to the graduating class of her Los Angeles high school in early June, just about a week after Floyd’s at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, she admitted that she struggled to know what to say.
“I wasn’t sure what I could say to you,” she told students at Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School. “I wanted to say the right thing. And I was really nervous that I wouldn’t, or that it would get picked apart, and I realised, the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.”
“Because George Floyd’s life mattered, and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered, and Philando Castile’s life mattered, and Tamir Rice’s life mattered, and so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know.”
According to a royal aide, the kinds of political statements Meghan expressed in her Girl Up speech and the graduation address would not have been possible before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex split from the rest of the family.
“Had Meghan and Harry still been in the UK and working members of the Royal Family that speech couldn’t have happened,” Queen Elizabeth’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter told Newsweek.
“It’s starting to voice opinions about the internal affairs of another country. I don’t think the Queen has to say anything,” he went on. “It is a social issue for the United States and it is not for a head of state to voice an opinion, whether the Queen or the president of France or whoever.”
Because Meghan was a public figure before she joined the Royal Family, she has expressed some political opinions, a rarity for royals. In 2016, two years before she married Prince Harry, she called Donald Trump “misogynistic” and “divisive.” She’s expressed her support for the #MeToo movement, which “does break royal precedent,” an etiquette expert previously told HuffPost. And during a 2018 visit to Ireland, she reportedly praised the outcome of the country’s referendum which legalised abortion.