Ivanka Trump lauds Saudi, UAE on women's rights reforms

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ivanka Trump lauded Sunday a handful of Mideast countries, including close U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for embarking on “significant reforms” to advance women's rights, while speaking at a gathering of women entrepreneurs and regional leaders in Dubai.

The daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump was delivering the keynote address at the two-day Global Women’s Forum held in an opulent resort overlooking the city's Persian Gulf coastline.

“We know that when women are free to succeed, families thrive, communities flourish and nations are stronger,” Trump said.

The theme of the forum in Dubai was “The Power of Influence.” It was an apt theme for Trump, whose loyalty and support for her father's presidency saw her and her husband, Jared Kushner, take up formal roles in the White House as his advisers.

The 38-year-old mother of three has positioned herself as an Oval Office confidante while spearheading initiatives that broadly back women's empowerment. Her husband has become a top adviser on U.S. Mideast policy.

Once the owner of an eponymous fashion line, Ivanka Trump has wielded her proximity to the president to promote policies affecting women and deliver speeches around the world about women's economic empowerment. She meets with world leaders as a key White House official. Some of her efforts even have some bipartisan support in Washington, standing in sharp contrast to the level of controversy and political division surrounding her father's presidency.

In her keynote speech at the women's forum in Dubai on Sunday, Trump touted what she said was the progress of women in the United States.

“Today, American women are leading in every aspect of society. Last year, there were more women than men in the United States workforce, with women securing over 70% of new jobs,” she said in her address.

Trump made no mention, however, of legislative obstacles in the U.S. around paid family leave, which she and the U.S president support. Currently, just a few U.S. states offer paid leave.

While questions continue to swirl over just how much influence she wields with her father, the U.S. president gave a glimpse into their relationship in 2017 when he wrote on Twitter: “She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing!" She's previously said that when she disagrees with her father, “he knows it".

During her speech in Dubai, Trump congratulated Saudi Arabia for recent changes in the law that allow women to travel abroad and obtain a passport without the permission of a male relative. In 2018, a ban on women driving cars was lifted. The changes are part of a wide-ranging push to transform the Saudi economy, attract greater foreign investment and ease international criticism.

Trump pointed to changes in other Mideast countries, as well. She said Bahrain had introduced legislation against discrimination in the workplace; Jordan had eliminated legal restrictions on women's ability to work at night; Morocco had expanded women's land rights; and Tunisia had introduced laws to combat domestic violence.

She said, though, more work needed to be done. She noted that across the region, women on average still have only half the legal rights of men.

The audience for her speech in the UAE included Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, World Bank President David Malpass and International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva.

The Dubai ruler is wildly popular at home and is seen as a modernizing force. He has, however, faced some criticism abroad concerning women's rights following reports that one of his daughters tried to flee the country and was forcibly returned. In previous years, Jordanian Princess Haya, with whom Sheikh Mohammed has two children, would have attended a forum of this kind by his side, but she too has reportedly fled the country and is seeking custody of their children in a British court.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have worked to cultivate close ties with the Trump administration and were early supporters of the Women's Empowerment Fund, a World Bank initiative to help female entrepreneurs that Ivanka Trump strongly backs. During the first trip abroad of her father's presidency to Saudi Arabia, the two Gulf countries pledged $100 million to the fund.

In her speech at Sunday's forum, Trump lauded Emirati leaders for “removing barriers to women joining the workforce and developing a national strategy that recognizes that women are central to sustainable growth.”

She noted that although 70% of Emirati university graduates are women, only 10% of the UAE's total national income is derived from women.

“We know that this going to grow and flourish in the years ahead,” she said.

During her two-day visit to the UAE, Trump met with women entrepreneurs and discussed a U.S. government project she's leading that's aimed at helping women in developing countries. The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative was launched last year with backing by her father.

On Saturday, she toured Abu Dhabi's grand mosque, visited Abu Dhabi's branch of the Louvre Museum, and met privately with the country's day-to-day ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.


Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb