Melania Trump makes case for women's 'empowerment'

2017-03-30 11:25
First lady Melania Trump. (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

First lady Melania Trump. (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

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Washington - First Lady Melania Trump made the case for women's "empowerment" at a ceremony on Wednesday honouring a dozen activists who have overcome great odds to advance human rights around the world.

In a rare public speech, Melania Trump called for an embrace of diversity, appearing as a "special guest" at the International Women of Courage event at the US State Department.

"We must begin now to challenge old fears, and fight for justice and stand up against evil and injustice wherever it may be," she said as she paid tribute to the 13 women honourees, all but one of whom were present.

"As leaders of our shared global community, we must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race, the human race."

The first lady's vocal support of diversity appeared somewhat at odds with the stance of President Donald Trump's administration, whose "America first" worldview has often cast outsiders as a threat.

Three of the honourees on Wednesday were from countries targeted by Trump's thwarted travel ban on refugees and travellers from Muslim-majority nations: Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Praising the strength and courage of the laureates who have fought against gender bias and discrimination, Melania Trump said it is women like them who will "ignite a global battle against inhumanity".

"Together, with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching," she said.

President Trump's military-dominated budget blueprint, however, calls for State Department funding to be slashed by a third, with "soft" aid programmes that promote democracy and human rights seen as under threat.

The first lady's living arrangements

The Slovenian-born former model turned first lady is so low-profile that a paparazzo in New York called her, in an interview with The Washington Post, "the great white whale".

The first lady, who lives at the family's New York City penthouse, should move to the White House or pay for the cost of protecting Trump Tower, an online petition said at the same time she spoke.

"The US taxpayer is paying an exorbitant amount of money to protect the First Lady in Trump Tower, located in New York City," the Change.org petition says.

"As to help relieve the national debt, this expense yields no positive results for the nation and should be cut from being funded," it adds.

More than 210 000 people signed the petition as of midday on Wednesday, the group said.

Melania Trump has said she will stay in New York to allow her 11-year-old son, Barron, to finish the year. She will then move to the White House, she has said.

The New York Police Department says it has spent more than $24 million to protect the Trump family between election day in November and Inauguration Day in January.

That breaks down to a hefty $127 000-$146 000 per day, the city's police commissioner said last month.

Signatories voiced some less than warm-and-fuzzy opinions.

"Living in the White House is what you do when you are married to the president," said one, Sheila Forsyth, of Newport, Rhode Island.

"The tax money saved by eliminating these extra protection expenses can be used to feed senior citizens. Why is our tax money being spent on people who already have more than their fair share?" she asked.

Read more on:    melania trump  |  us  |  politics

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