Recently, First Daughter Ivanka Trump and First Lady Melania Trump took a visit to the Tuwaiq Palace in Saudi Arabia to propose an idea for a women’s empowerment fund. Since then, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced, at the World Bank Women Entrepreneurs Fund, that they are donating $100 million to help women in the Middle East. The money will work to improve the status of women in the Middle East by helping them start their own businesses.
Ivanka and Melania Trump attracted attention on their visit for attending without covering their heads, a traditional practice for women in these countries. There are mixed views on this, but many find it to be an act of spreading feminism and a show of traditionally powerful western women.
President Donald Trump had previously criticized Michelle Obama for declining to wear a headscarf during her time in Saudi Arabia in 2015. He tweeted, “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies.”
Prime Minister Theresa May, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also not covered their heads during similar trips. While Ivanka and Melania Trump did not cover their heads, they did wear long, conservative dresses.
Saudi Arabia’s unfair laws against women are still enforced, the most notable law prohibiting women from driving. Women also have relatively no autonomy and are given male guardians, typically a husband, brother, or son, to make decisions for them. Permission is required to go to school and work, travel, buy property, etc.
This reduces women to objects to be controlled at the whims of the men they are permitted to be around. It’s not just taboo for women to disobey these laws, but it is also incredibly dangerous. Many Muslim women have been jailed for driving in protest, or even violently attacked for performing everyday activities, like listening to music or answering the phone.
The fund, although proposed by Ivanka and Melania Trump, will be led by the World Bank. The Trump women will not be directly involved in raising funds or deciding how the money will be spent. Hopefully the money will provide these women with networking, financial opportunities, and necessary capital to expand their status and independence.
Equal rights activists agree that although they have a long way to go in terms of gender equality, this is a positive step for the Middle East in empowering women. Ivanka stated at the women’s economic empowerment roundtable.
“We are living in a pivotal moment in history for women,” she said. “Around the world, women continue to achieve unprecedented levels of rights and freedoms. Today, you all stand on the front lines of the fight for gender equality. You recognize the indisputable truth that empowering women is key to driving economic transformation.”
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