What Ivanka Trump Learned on About Women’s Empowerment in Africa — and Why She's Being Criticized as an ‘Empty-Calorie’ Phony
There is nothing simple about President Donald Trump's divisive administration — no message without backlash and no decision without controversy
Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump‘s eldest daughter and one of his longest-serving and most visible advisers, just wants to talk about her recent work in Africa and her focus on women’s economic empowerment.
“I’ve been deeply, deeply inspired by my trip here,” she told the Associated Press while still in Ivory Coast in April.
But there is nothing simple about the Trump administration — no message without backlash and no decision without controversy.
As her father’s power has expanded, so has hers. But that close association has not spared her from his divisive and historically unpopular image.
Even as Ivanka, 37, published an opinion column for CNN on Tuesday extolling her work and the stories of the women she met while in Ethiopia and Ivory Coast last month, critics returned to a familiar charge: that she is worse than just the pleasing face for an ugly political platform.
“Ivanka’s op-ed omits the fact that the policies that she and her administration enforce are holding back the very women she hopes to empower,” Jezebel’s Prachi Gupta wrote on Wednesday.
The Jezebel piece honed in on the Trump administration’s anti-abortion policies, which includes cutting aid “to any foreign-based organization that performs, promotes or offers information on abortion,” according to the Washington Post.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the move to reporters in March, arguing, “We can achieve … the great work that many of these foreign NGOs do without running the risk that they’ll be used to perform abortions or advocate for abortions.”
Last month, in another critical piece, a columnist for The Guardian wrote: “Ivanka’s superpower, inherited from her father, is that she believes her own spin. She seems genuinely to see herself as a champion of women — despite the fact that she has remained silent as her father has systematically attacked women’s rights.”
The Guardian column also criticized Ivanka’s silence on her father’s anti-immigration and anti-Muslim politics.
She has said that she is privately candid with her father but acknowledges he is her boss. “One of the reasons that I have such a good relationship with him in both a personal and professional capacity is because I’m incredibly candid with him,” she told ABC News last year.
“He knows exactly where I stand on any issue,” she said then. “I’ll always tell you what I’m for, but it is not my place as somebody working within a White House to tell you what I’m against. The only person who knows that is one person, and he knows it.”
A spokeswoman for Ivanka in the White House, where she works as adviser to the president, declined to comment on her critics. But she has supporters.
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“I applaud President Trump and Ivanka Trump for their commitment to realizing this mission and launching the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a vocal defender of the president’s, said in the wake of the launch of W-GDP’s unveiling.
“This new initiative has the potential to be transformative,” Graham said. “I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this critical work.”
The government’s W-GDP, for which Ivanka serves as public face, has three key pieces. It targets job training; women-owned businesses; and the laws, regulations and stigmas that hold back female participation in the international economy.
Soon after the initiative was announced in February, the New York Times noted that Ivanka had “faced scrutiny for supporting equality measures even as legions of Trump administration critics say her father is rolling back protections for marginalized groups.”
The president also has a history of disparaging women and notoriously bragged about touching their genitals.
In her CNN column, Ivanka celebrated the stories of the women she met during her African tour, including cocoa farmers in Adzopé, Ivory Coast; a pottery and textiles manufacturer in Ethiopia; and a large-scale rice farmer in Liberia.
“Despite the incredible difficulties they face, women in Africa are already transcending poverty, creating jobs, and pioneering a brighter future,” Ivanka wrote. “Now, we want to empower them, and their sisters, to unleash even greater economic prosperity and peace for the people of Africa, for our country, and for the world.”
Meeting these local women was “the most remarkable part of the trip,” she wrote, adding, “Their stories are tangible proof of what is possible if we deliver smart development assistance to empower women to succeed in their economies.”
Her critics are not persuaded.
“Like her empty-calorie feminism, it sounds nice, but ultimately means nothing,” Jezebel’s Gupta wrote Wednesday. “Why let her pretend otherwise?”
She is not unaware of this.
“Suddenly, after my father declared his candidacy, it became that all the things that I was doing that I was praised for, the same people, the critics, viewed them through this different lens,” she told the Times in 2017 in the weeks after officially joining the White House. “Somehow, all the same things they applauded me for as a millennial, as a female entrepreneur, were now viewed very cynically as opportunistic.”