British Prime Minister Theresa May says that being a female leader is the “biggest statement” she can make to President Donald Trump about women’s rights when they meet at the White House later this week. Not only is this wrong, it’s harmful too.
This Friday, May will be the first world leader – male or female – to sit down with President Trump since he was elected, just days after millions of women around the world demonstrated over their fears that a Trump presidency will backtrack on women’s rights globally. She will also be the first foreign leader to meet him since he instated a dramatically expanded Global Gag Rule, a pernicious and cruel policy that will limit women’s access to lifesaving reproductive health services, including abortion.
The UK and the US have worked as key donors to combat some of the most challenging women’s rights concerns of our time, including sexual violence in conflict, child marriage, and maternal mortality. May, who has identified as a feminist and even wore a T-shirt saying so, was deeply involved in the UK’s Girl Summit which, along with the US, bid to end female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Under a Trump administration, much of the progress made together could be lost. Some of the most important groups working on these issues are set to lose US funding under the expansion of the gag rule. May is wrong if she thinks simply showing up to a meeting as a woman is enough fulfill her responsibility as a leader to advocate and fight for the rights of women and girls everywhere.
Being a woman in power is not the same as standing up for women’s rights. May, and all the other world leaders who meet Trump, should listen to millions of marchers around the world and hold him to the highest standards possible on women’s rights.
May also said “[w]henever there is something that I find unacceptable I won’t be afraid to say that to Donald Trump.” Less than a week into his presidency, Trump has already signed an order that will hurt women all around the world. So it’s vital that May sticks to her word in her meeting with him. His actions threaten progress on issues she’s championed. Simply showing up is not enough.