Ivanka Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia with her father for his first international trip as president of the United States this weekend. While the president and first lady Melania Trump met separately with foreign leaders, Ivanka spoke about women's rights at a roundtable discussion in Riyadh. As Ivanka praised Saudi Arabia's progress for women, however, female reporters were being escorted out of the room. This unfortunate moment of irony has, for obvious reasons, stirred up an important debate, with Ivanka herself at the forefront.
“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging," Ivanka said during the roundtable discussion. "But there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for." At the same time Ivanka commended Saudi Arabia for its progress, however, female reporters were being escorted out of the discussion due to the country's strict conservative laws. Saudi Arabian women are "prohibited from driving or traveling alone," according to USA Today. The Saudi Arabian government also imposes "strict segregation of the sexes in public places."
The irony of Ivanka's comments and the stark lack of female voices in the room did not go unnoticed. Many people took to Twitter to share their opinions on the first daughter's appearance at the roundtable discussion, with some calling her comments tone-deaf.
Ivanka’s praise did not sit well with Saudi women either, according to 58-year-old activist Aziza al-Yousef, who told The Washington Post that "all the women that Ivanka Trump met have a guardian." In Saudi Arabia, all women must be accompanied by a male guardian in order to leave the home. They must also receive written permission from their guardian to pursue an education. Guardians are usually a male relative. "All these achievements depend on whether you’re lucky to be born in a family where your guardian will be understanding, will help you,” Yousef told The Post. “If Ivanka is interested in women empowerment and human rights, she should see activists, and not just officials.”
Ivanka's address regarding the rights of Saudi women wasn't the only moment making headlines; On the same day that Ivanka praised Saudi Arabia's progress for women, the World Bank announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had decided to contribute $100 million toward the International Women’s Empowerment Fund, a fund which Ivanka had proposed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The first daughter is the one who introduced the idea of the World Bank's International Women's Empowerment fund, however, she will reportedly not personally control or raise money for it, according to The Wall Street Journal. The money will go toward helping Middle Eastern women "start and run successful businesses by easing their access to finance, markets and networks."
Until the guardianship system is abolished in Saudi Arabia, women will still need assistance and permission to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. For women to truly make progress, they must be free to make their own decisions. Progress should certainly be commended, however, Ivanka's comments show that she's glossed over major injustices still facing the women of Saudi Arabia.