Melania Trump talks immigrant status, gender equality at White House luncheon

First lady Melania Trump opened up about her immigrant status on Wednesday, explaining how it fueled her interest in gender equality.

The wife of President Trump left her current residence in New York on Wednesday to host a White House luncheon in celebration of International Women's Day -- where she spoke during a speech of her past in growing up under communist rule in Slovenia.

"As an immigrant myself, having grown up in a communist society, I know all too well the value and importance of freedom and equal opportunity," Melania Trump said. "Ideals which this great nation was founded and has continued to strive towards throughout its history."

RELATED: Melania Trump hosts International Women's Day luncheon

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Melania Trump hosts International Women's Day luncheon
U.S. first lady Melania Trump arrives to join her guests for an International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ivanka Trump joins her mother-in-law, U.S. first lady Melania Trump (not pictured), as she welcomes guests for an International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) (L) and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are seated next to each other as they attend first lady Melania Trump's International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. Collins was one of just two Republican senators to vote against DeVos's confirmation. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08: First lady Melania Trump arrives at a luncheon she was hosting to mark International Women's Day in the State Dining Room at the White House March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
White House advisor Kellyanne Conway attends first lady Melania Trump's International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Linda McMahon (L) and Karen Pence (R), wife of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, attend first lady Melania Trump's (not pictured) International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Fashion designer Rachel Roy attends U.S. first lady Melania Trump's (not pictured) International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08: First lady Melania Trump attends at a luncheon she was hosting to mark International Women's Day in the State Dining Room at the White House March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump arrives in the State Dining Room of the White House for a luncheon on International Women's Day on March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Karen Pence (R), wife of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, attends first lady Melania Trump's (not pictured) International Women's Day luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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The luncheon crowd included senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Trump's eldest daughter, Ivanka, and wife of Vice President Mike Pence, Karen Pence.

The first lady continued her remarks, commenting on "gender persecution" that exists on a global scale -- something Melania Trump says "we must face together."

"There remains far more brutal and terrifying incarnations of actual gender persecution which we must face together, such as forced enslavement, sexual abuse and absolute repression of far too many women and girls around the globe," Melania Trump said. "We must remember these women in our daily prayers and use our combined resources to help free them from such unthinkable and inhumane circumstances."

SEE ALSO: Poll: First lady Melania Trump's favorability ratings rise

First ladies throughout history have generally taken up a specific issue area as a main part of their White House platform. For former first lady Michelle Obama, it was fitness for kids -- a cause she mobilized around using her "Let's Move" campaign and White House garden as a way to educate and encourage children to eat and live better throughout the nation. Wife of George W. Bush, Laura Bush, primarily focused on education.

Where some have speculated that Melania Trump is growing into a role where she will focus on children's issues, that notion was strengthened when the former model placed a premium on the power of education.

"I continue to firmly believe that education is the most powerful way to promote and ensure women's rights. Together we will do this not only by striving for gender parity at all levels of education, but also by showing all children, and especially boys, that it is through empathy, respect and kindness that we achieve our collective potential," she said.

RELATED: First Family: Meet Melania Trump

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First Family: Meet Melania Trump

Born Melanija Knavs

Originally Melanija Knavs, Melania Trump was born April 20, 1970 in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. Born to a car dealer and children's clothing designer, she grew up in a modest home in a community then part of communist Yugoslavia. Melania has a younger sister and older half brother, whom her father had from a previous relationship.

Pictured: Taken in 1977, this image shows Melania, 7, (second from the right) attending a fashion review at the textile company where her mother was employed.

Began modeling at age 16. 

In her early days of modeling, Trump worked in Milan and Paris, before moving to New York in 1996.

Pictured: Melania Knauss during Fred Trump's Funeral at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.

The Clintons attended their wedding.

In 2005, Melania and Donald married in a Palm Beach, Florida ceremony. Shaquille O'Neal, Kelly Ripa, Barbara Walters, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric and both President Bill Clinton and then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton were in attendance.

Pictured: Donald and Melania sit courtside before a 2001 Toronto Raptors game.

Melania and Donald have a son, Barron.

On March 20, 2006, Melania gave birth to her and Donald's son, Barron William Trump. He is often referred to as "The Little Donald."

Donald holds a replica of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as Melania holds their son Barron in Los Angeles in 2007.

She spoke at the Republican National Convention.

On July 18, Melania addressed delegates on the first day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The soon-to-be first lady was quickly criticized, though, when it became clear parts of her speech were identical to that of First lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

She cares about bullying.

On November 3, Melania Trump gave her first solo campaign speech for her husband in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, saying she would work to combat bullying as first lady. "Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers," she said, noting that kids are often hurt when they are "made to feel less in looks or intelligence."

She said she wants to be "true to herself" as first lady.

On November 11, President-elect Trump and his family -- including Melania -- appeared on 60 Minutes in their first post-election television interview. In the interview, Melania opened up to Lesley Stahl about staying true to herself, meeting Michelle Obama at the White House and how she hopes to raise son, Barron, as they transition to life as the first family.

Melania and Barron will stay in New York for the time being.

On November 20, Trump transition team sources said that Melania and 10-year-old son, Barron, are expected to spend most of their time in New York at least through spring of 2017. The team offered keeping Barron in his Upper West Side private school as reasoning for their staying in New York.

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Melania Trump has faced past scrutiny over her path to becoming an American citizen. Immigration expert Hasan Shafiqullah recently told Slate that if Melania did work in the U.S. without having the needed legal permission and "If the current executive order on interior enforcement and the related Homeland Security memoranda on interior enforcement had been in effect at that time, then she would have...been an enforcement priority."

This, paired with reports that the first lady is "miserable" in her White House role, forced President Trump to speak on the matter during a February press conference, saying she "gets so unfairly treated."

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