REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY DURING KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT YOUNG AFRICAN WOMEN LEADERS FORUM|Regina Mundi Church Soweto, South Africa

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    people don’t always listen.  I know there are those who discount your opinions, who tell you you’re not ready, who say that you should sit back and wait your turn.

    But I am here today because when it comes to the challenges we face, we simply don’t have time to sit back and wait.

    I’m here because I believe that each of you is ready, right here and right now, to start meeting these challenges.

    And I am here because I know that true leadership -– leadership that lifts families, leadership that sustains communities and transforms nations –- that kind of leadership rarely starts in palaces or parliaments.

    That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status.  And that kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in an instant.

    Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals.

    I mean, think about what happened here in Soweto 35 years ago.  Many of the students who led the uprising were younger than all of you.  They carried signs made of cardboard boxes and canvass sacks.  Yet together, they propelled this cause into the consciousness of the world.  And we now celebrate National Youth Day and National Youth Month every year in their honor.

    I mean, think about the giants of the struggle –- people like Albertina Sisulu, whose recent passing we all mourn.  Orphaned as a teenager, she worked as a nurse to support her siblings.  And when her husband, Walter Sisulu, became Secretary-General of the ANC, it was up to her to provide for their family.  When he was imprisoned for 26 years, it was up to her to continue his work.  And that she did.  With a mother’s fierce love for this country, she threw herself into the struggle.

    She led boycotts and sit-ins and marches, including the 1956 Women’s March, when thousands of women from across this country, converged on Pretoria to protest the pass laws.  They were women of every color, many of them not much older than all of you.  Some of them carried their babies on their backs.  And for 30 minutes, they stood in complete silence, raising their voices only to sing freedom songs like Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica.  Their motto was simple, but clear: “If you strike a woman, you strike a rock.”  (Applause.)

    Ma Sisulu, the students of Soweto, those women in Pretoria, they had little money, even less status, no fancy titles to speak of.  But what they had was their vision for a free South Africa.  What they had was an unshakeable belief that they were worthy of that freedom –- and they had the courage to act on that belief.  Each of them chose to be a rock for justice.  And with countless acts of daring and defiance, together, they transformed this nation.

    Together they paved the way for free and fair elections, for a process of healing and reconciliation, and for the rise of South Africa as a political and economic leader on the world stage.

    Now, I know that as your generation looks back on that struggle, and on the many liberation movements of the past century, you may think that all of the great moral struggles have already been won.

    As you hear the stories of lions like Madiba and Sisulu and Luthuli, you may think that you can never measure up to such greatness.

    But while today’s challenges might not always inspire the lofty rhetoric or the high drama of struggles past, the injustices at hand are no less glaring, the human suffering no less acute.

    So make no mistake about it: There are still so many causes worth sacrificing for.  There is still so much history yet to be made.  You can be the generation that makes the discoveries and builds the industries that will transform our economies.  You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever.  You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time — (applause) — the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease, the generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable, and treatable, and should never be a source of shame.  (Applause.)

    You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption and protects the rights of every citizen to speak freely, to worship openly, to love whomever they choose.

    You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools.  (Applause.)

    You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place — (applause) — including the home –- especially the home –- that isn’t just a women’s rights violation.  It’s a human rights violation.  And it has no place in any society.

    You see, that is the history that your generation can make.

    Now, I have to be honest.  Your efforts might not always draw the world’s attention, except for today.  (Laughter.)  You may not find yourself leading passionate protests that fill stadiums and shut down city streets.  And the change you seek may come slowly,

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