Ivanka Trump Meets With Saudi Women Leaders to Talk Female Empowerment

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, walks with Ivanka Trump at the Royal Court Palace, on May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (Evan Vucci/AP)
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, walks with Ivanka Trump at the Royal Court Palace, on May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Ivanka Trump brought her message of female empowerment Sunday to the world’s most repressive society for females, a place where women are not allowed to drive, must cover themselves from head to toe in public, and require permission from a “male guardian” to travel outside their homes.

“In every country, including the United States, women and girls face challenges,” Trump told a small group of accomplished Saudi women gathered to dialogue with her about how to build on their successes. “Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging,” Trump said, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

President Trump is also accompanied here by his wife, Melania, and she and Ivanka Trump have often been the only women present in public meetings with Saudi officials. The first lady, who was courteous but silent and largely without expression during a number of formal sessions Saturday, was praised Sunday by the English-language Arab Times as “classy and conservative” for her demeanor and her designer outfits that covered her arms and legs.

Neither Melania nor Ivanka Trump have worn headscarves during the visit, following the tradition of other presidential spouses visiting here.

Beyond the streets of this country’s locked-down capital, social media has been filled with both flattering and not-so-positive comments about the Trump family, including cartoons of President Trump picking Arab pockets as he shakes hands with royal leaders and memes of him in an imam’s beard beside racy photos from his days owning the Miss Universe competition.

One widely circulated cartoon showed the Statue of Liberty dolefully sitting with her chin on her fist — an apparent reference to the president’s travel ban on six Muslim countries, although not Saudi Arabia — while President Trump dances a jig, holding aloft a torch spewing American warplanes and other weaponry.

In her meeting with the women, Ivanka Trump described herself as a “female leader within the Trump administration” and said her focus was “to help empower women in the United States and around the globe.”

She noted problems of affordable child care, paid family leave and a “persistent pay gap,” and she said women around the world have told her of their lack of access to capital, networks and markets.

The 15 black-wrapped women gathered at Riyadh’s Tuwaiq Palace to speak with Ivanka Trump, dressed in a powder-blue pantsuit, were all highly educated, many of them in the United States. They held a variety of positions: heads of a national youth organization and the first public women-only university in the kingdom, senior roles in the Chamber of Commerce and the small-business authority, and company founders.

Hosting the meeting was Princess Reema bint Bandar, deputy president of the Women’s Sports Authority, who said she had met Ivanka Trump because both had a life in retail. “And today,” the princess said, “we both find ourselves quite interestingly in governmental positions where we hope to make a difference for the future of women.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Karen DeYoung