Meghan spoke to students and academics at a roundtable discussion at the University of Johannesburg.
“When a women is empowered it changes absolutely everything in the community,” she told the group.
The Sussexes are on a 10-day tour in which Prince Harry has visited a minefield and he, Meghan and their baby son Archie met Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The duchess announced three new “gender grants” for the University of Johannesburg, Stellenbosch University and the University of Western Cape at the beginning of Tuesday’s discussion with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).
Meghan took over from the Queen as patron of the ACU in January.
“The goal here is to be able to have gender equality, to be able to support women as they are working in research and higher education roles,” she told the discussion group.
“True to what you said, when a women is empowered it changes absolutely everything in the community and starting an educational atmosphere is really a key point of that,” she added.
Meghan said she was only able to go to university herself because of financial help from a scholarship and “families chipping in”.
“If you don’t have the support that is necessary that you feel that you can keep taking the next step then you’re stunted in growth,” she said.
Well-wishers cheered as the duchess was greeted by Susana Glavan, director of the British Council in South Africa, and Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice chancellor of the university.
Meanwhile the Duke of Sussex is visiting a health centre in Malawi.