Trump Administration’s Women’s Rights Lip Service Turns Irony Up to 11
First lady Melania Trump presented courage awards to women fighting globally for a free press, for environmental rights, and for the right to protest. Cue the awkwardness.
Today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced to a room of incredulous reporters that President Donald Trump “made women’s empowerment a priority” during his campaign. But that wasn’t even the emptiest gesture the Trump administration made for women’s rights today.
After civilization collapses and humans are all but wiped from Earth’s memory, all that will be left are cockroaches and the echoes of bitter guffaws of feminists who watched this year’s International Women of Courage Awards.
Today’s ceremony, emceed by first lady Melania Trump and acting Deputy Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon, honored the work and bravery of 13 women from around the world, each of whom has devoted their lives to causes the Trump administration actively works against—or is, at best, indifferent to beyond the photo op.
The ceremony carried on as though it were operating in a completely different universe than the one in which we’re currently living, a veritable smorgasbord of hypocrisy.
“President Trump and his administration are committed to expanding opportunities for women and girls domestically across the globe,” said Shannon, who was there because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on his way to Brussels, where he will meet with the President of NATO and ostensibly ask for money in exchange for the U.S.’s continued involvement in the important peacekeeping alliance.
After a brief statement, Shannon introduced first lady Melania Trump as a philanthropist and cyberbullying opponent, although it was unclear what, if anything, the first lady has done to stop cyberbullying. It is safe to say that if she’s instructed her husband (a big fan of cyberbullying) to knock it off that the message hasn’t really stuck.
The first lady’s speech extolled the virtues of the impressive women being recognized that day, offering mawkish lip service to their bravery in standing up to corruption, fighting gender-based discrimination, and oppression.
“These honorees,” the first lady noted, “are true heroes.” Some of them, she noted, had even stood up for their own rights in countries with laws designed to protect powerful predators at the expense of victims.
Imagine living in a country like that.
But the truly so-ironic-I’m-worried-I’ll-pull-a-muscle part of the ceremony came when the biographies of the honorees were read aloud. Trump’s actual conduct and policies ended up sitting there unsaid, an 800-pound elephant in the room. The honorees’ achievements didn’t serve as a simple award ceremony as much as an unintentional litany of feminist indictments of the Trump agenda.
Among today’s honorees were a Rebecca Kabugho of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nonviolent protester who has been repeatedly arrested for insisting her country hold fair elections. As a candidate, Donald Trump once offered to pay the legal fees of rally attendees who punch protesters in the face.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh is currently confined to a Vietnamese jail after an illustrious career of fighting for free speech and against pollution. This week, a Trump administration executive order rolled back regulations that would protect Americans against the sort of pollution she fought in her home country.
Sandya Eknelygoda’s husband, a journalist, went missing in their home country of Sri Lanka in 2010. Trump has routinely denigrated the work of journalists, more than once referring to them as “the enemy.”
Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka is one of the first women to have ever joined the army in Niger. Meanwhile, in America, President Trump has proposed a budget that eliminates the Interagency Council on Homelessness, an organization that works, in part, to reduce homelessness of military veterans.
Jannat Al Ghezi works for the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, an organization that helps domestic-violence survivors. Veronica Simogun runs an anti-domestic-violence organization in Papua New Guinea. Malebogo Molefhe of was nearly killed by an ex-boyfriend and now works as an anti-gender-based-violence advocate. Arlette Contreras Bautista is a woman whose severe beating at the hands of a partner was captured on camera and ignited a movement in her home country of Peru. Trump’s proposed budget threatens to funnel funding for programs that benefit domestic-violence survivors stateside into other concerns like border protection and immigration enforcement. In parts of the country, domestic-violence survivors are reportedly afraid to come forward to the police out of fear of deportation.
Fadia Najib Thabet is a Yemeni woman who worked with the United Nations to reduce the number of child soldiers fighting for al Qaeda. The Trump administration has threatened to cut off funding to the United Nations. She also works on behalf of child refugees that, had Trump gotten his travel ban enacted, would have been been barred from the U.S.
Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh works with women in Syria displaced by the conflict. Trump’s aforementioned travel ban would make life more difficult for refugees seeking shelter in the U.S. and his proposed slashes to funding for the UN population fund would make it much more dangerous for pregnant women fleeing war to give birth in refugee camps.
This isn’t even the most grossly hypocritical act by the Trump administration vis-à-vis women and girls in the last 10 days. Last week, the Trump White House worked to push a health-care overhaul through Congress that would have eliminated maternity-care benefits from many insurance plans. His daughter Ivanka, a self-proclaimed advocate for women and children who doesn’t actually appear to do anything, was on a ski vacation and never weighed in on the legislation.
The International Women of Courage Awards have a bit of an ironic origin story. They were started by Condoleezza Rice in 2007. As Secretary of State, Rice advocated the invasion of Iraq, which one could argue led to events that necessitated many 2017 recipients’ activism in the first place. Past winners include Zhanna Borisovna Nemtsova, whose father, a Russian politician and vocal Putin critic, was assassinated in 2015.
This year’s ceremony ended with a photo op.