Meghan Markle delivers powerful speech on gender-based violence in South Africa: 'I am here with you as a woman of color and as your sister'

Gender-based violence in South Africa is not just a problem, it's a "national crisis," according to South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa. Official figures state 137 sexual offences are committed each day, and more than 30 women were killed by their spouses last month. Between April 2018 and March 2019, an alarming 66,992 sexual offenses were reported.

The country is working to combat the problem, and this week, girls received support in the form of an inspirational speech from Meghan Markle. During a royal tour of South Africa, the Duchess and Prince Harry visited Cape Town's Nyanga township to speak out against gender-based violence. Nyanga is known as South Africa's "murder capital," with 289 murders reported in the area last year alone.

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While in South Africa, the royal couple visited Justice Desk, a human rights group that helps girls who've been the victims of rape and abuse. There, Meghan and Harry danced with children, heard personal stories from women affected by gender-based violence in the region, and watched girls take a self-defense class.

Meghan spoke to a crowd of 250 people, bringing them a message of hope. "We are encouraged to hear your president take the next step towards preventing gender-based violence through education and necessary changes to reinforce the values of modern South Africa. I have to say, I feel incredibly humble to be in the presence of all of you as you stand firm in your core values of respect, dignity, and equality," the Duchess said.



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Meghan also mentioned her black heritage, the first time she has done so since marrying into the royal family. "On one personal note, may I just say that while I am here with my husband as a member of the royal family, I want you to know that for me, I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color, and as your sister. I am here with you, and I am here for you, and thank you for showing us your Ubuntu [spirit of togetherness]," she continue

Prince Harry also spoke out against violence towards women. "No man is born to cause harm to women," he said. "This is learned behavior and a cycle that needs to be broken."

He also called for men to step up and treat women better. "So now, it's about redefining masculinity, it's about creating your own footprints for your children to follow in, so that you can make a positive change for the future. To me, the real testament of your strength isn't physical, it's what's up here and what's in here. Your strength is in your spirit, which for me means honoring and protecting my wife, and being a positive role model for my son," he continued.

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Earlier this month, women staged a multi-day protest following a wave of violence. President Ramaphosa has promised to make efforts to curb gender-based violence. "We have established 92 dedicated sexual offences courts since 2013, with a further 11 to be opened this financial year. I will propose to cabinet that all crimes against women and children should attract harsher minimum sentences," he said while addressing the country.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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