BERLIN – First daughter Ivanka Trump entered the lion’s den in Berlin on Tuesday as a panelist at the W20 Summit on women’s economic empowerment, where she was heckled for defending the attitudes of her father, US President Donald Trump, toward women.
Trump’s visit to Germany came at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and marked her first international trip since being named a White House adviser at the end of March.
Germany is a Trump-skeptic country, with its media quick to label President Trump “sexist.”
Any potential chilling welcome of the 35-year-old Trump was neutralized, however, when the conference moderator asked all audience members to stand up, according to protocol, as co-panelist Queen Máxima of the Netherlands entered with Trump, Merkel and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Panel moderator, German publisher Miriam Meckel, opened her dialogue with Trump by asking about her new position in the White House. “A part of the audience, and especially the German audience, is not familiar with the concept of a first daughter,” Meckel said.
Trump positioned her White House role as a work in progress. “It’s quite new to me,” Trump said. “It’s just been a little over 100 days, but it’s just been a remarkable and incredible journey. As an entrepreneur and businesswoman prior to this in the private sector, I care very much about empowering women.”
When Trump touted her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families,” some members of the audience, including the media, audibly hissed. The former businesswoman, who stepped down from her eponymous fashion line to serve as the administration’s unofficial ambassador for women’s issues, calmly came to his defense, as she often did throughout his campaign.
“I certainly heard the criticism from the media, that’s been perpetuated, but I know from personal experience and I think the thousands of women who have worked for and with my father for decades in the private sector, are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women,” Trump said.
From there, the discussion turned substantive.
Trump’s presence added glamour to the affair, overshadowing and at the same time highlighting the challenges and solutions deliberated throughout the two-day conference: balance of career and family; paid leave and childcare; workforce inclusion and equality; vocational education; access to finance and credit; women in a digital world; and the role of government in gender-related legislation.
Meckel also put Merkel in the hot seat when she asked the German chancellor if she considered herself a “feminist.”
A strong advocate of workplace equality, Merkel paused in hesitation, to loud snickers.
“To be honest,” Merkel said via simultaneous translation, “the history of feminism is a history that shows up things that I have in common with, but there are also chapters in which I’ve been following a different line, and I wouldn’t want to decorate myself with something I don’t deserve.”
When Meckel asked who in the audience considers herself a “feminist,” most raised their hands, including Trump.
The Dutch queen saved the awkward moment, to enthusiastic applause, with a definition of “feminist” on which all, including Merkel, agreed: “I just want that all women have a freedom of choice, that they have opportunities that they can grab,” Máxima said.
By then, the ice had melted and the meeting evolved into a warm sisterhood where each panelist shared an important insight she would take away from the session.
“I was personally pretty struck by the discussion around the term ‘feminism,’” Trump said. “Because I think in this society we’re very prone to labels, and I do label myself a feminist and I think about it in very broad terms. I think of that as believing in the social, political and economic equality for all genders. But I do think that there is a feeling of exclusion for a lot of women, if they deviate in one small way and one small area, and I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to come together, we have to have discussions such as this one where we can respectfully disagree with one another.”