As Ivanka Trump attends the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India this week, she will speak as a representative of the US government with experience as an entrepreneur, but not as a representative of the apparel company she founded, with wholesale revenues of $47 million and production orders in India and around the globe. It’s not clear which role, however, is better for helping Ms. Trump advance her stated mission of “empowering women”. Whichever role she chooses, she has much more power than she has so far exercised to advance women’s rights and welfare. We can only hope she finds enlightenment while in India.
Ivanka Trump’s brand has not taken much of a stand for the rights of the mostly women workers in its supply chain. Despite promises made in July, by the company CEO Abigail Klem, the company did not respond to a Washington Post request for a progress update. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump herself has said that because of her White House role, she “has been advised that she cannot ask the government to act in an issue involving the brand in any way, constraining her ability to intervene personally.” These excuses, and the radio silence that’s followed, are not encouraging signs.
Yet surely Ms. Trump can do more for women workers in her role as government advisor. Perhaps it was too much for her to try to block the Trump administration’s war on Obama-era policies, even those that were designed to advance women’s equity, initiatives he decimated such as paid family sick leave, funding under the Violence Against Women Act, and protections for survivors of sexual violence in college. The policies that Ivanka herself has championed, such as maternity leave policies that exclude fathers and adoptive parents, are widely predicted to hurt efforts to achieve pay equity for women.
For women workers globally, Ivanka Trump has remained silent and appears unaware of the Trump administration’s apparent lack of support for a new ILO Convention on Violence against Women and Men in the World of Work. The proposed convention would establish a global human rights standard that would address gender based violence at work. This is a critical initiative to ensure sexual harassment and sexual violence at work is taken up in global human rights norms in a way that drives legal reforms in countries around the world.
As Representative Jan Schakowsky – who introduced the Violence against Women Act – wrote in July: “Gender-based violence is an impediment to women’s economic empowerment, and its prevention is critical to establishing safe, productive and healthy workplaces for all.” The World Health Organization reports that one in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. According to the United Nations, 40-50% of EU women experience unwanted sexual advances, harassment, or physical contact at work. In some countries where the problem has been studied less, the statistic may be even worse.
Ivanka may be constrained from speaking for her brand, but there is no reason she could not be advancing legal policies and reform initiatives designed to ensure women workers are protected and able to access remedy when their rights are violated. For a woman committed to “promoting greater opportunit[ies] for women around the world”, she needs to seize this opportunity before it is too late.
Unfortunately, Ivanka’s keynote speech in India,“Women First, Prosperity For All”, indicates the kind of approach that views women as the means to development as opposed to one that is focused first and foremost on women’s rights as human rights. Her speech highlights that resources for women entrepreneurs are necessary so that “our families, our economies, and our societies reach their fullest potential.” What’s missing here is a focus on advancing the rights of all women, not just expanding financing for women entrepreneurs who aspire to be like her.
It’s not too late. Ivanka may be focused on connecting with other women entrepreneurs and business leaders, yet there is every reason for her to meet with the women who work in India’s burgeoning apparel sector so she can hear firsthand about the struggles they face in securing their rights and welfare – and by extension that of their families. Ivanka Trump, whether acting as a global entrepreneur or as a US government advisor, has tremendous potential to help turn the tide and create permanent preventive solutions to the pervasive sexual violence endured by women everywhere. But she needs to act now.