On Tuesday, a delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Washington, D.C. for a meeting with President Donald Trump, and the two sides met at the White House. With the Saudis sitting at one side of a long table, and key members of the Trump administration at the other, it was a tightly packed room. But there was a notable omission from the room, too ― this photo of Trump's Saudi meeting showed no women were present at the sit-down, and plenty of people on Twitter took notice.
According to The New York Times, there were more than 20 people present at the meeting, but not a single woman. On the American side of the table, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner were reportedly joined by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and outgoing White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.
America's alliance with Saudi Arabia has long been controversial, owing to the country's abysmal record on human rights, and in particular women's rights. Given this background, it's not hard to see why people took the lack of women present at the meeting as more than a mere oversight.
Given Saudi Arabia's poor record on women's rights, the fact that the U.S. did not seat a woman at the meeting is drawing criticism. This isn't new, exactly, as many American progressives have criticized and scrutinized the U.S. for it's alliance with the Saudis, especially when the U.S. attempts to play a leadership role on human rights.
On Tuesday, Trump told reporters the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is "probably the strongest it’s ever been." He also made it clear that he hopes to sell more military equipment to the Saudi Arabian state.
"Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they're going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world," Trump said, according to CNBC.
The U.S. has been a powerful backer of the years-long Saudi-led war in Yemen, despite reports of heavy civilian casualties. The United Nations believes up to 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in the war, which the U.S. has backed throughout both the Obama and Trump administrations. This week, the U.S. Senate scuttled a resolution aimed at ending American support for the war.
As The New York Times notes, American foreign policy delegations have historically been overwhelmingly male. The Trump administration, however, is male-dominated on a level not seen in decades, more specifically white male-dominated. Of those women who do work in the Trump administration, the most likely one to have attended the meeting would probably be U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, whose job specifically relates to international affairs.
Trump previously had a pair of women who worked in national security in his administration, Dina Powell and K.T. McFarland, both of them former deputy national security advisers. Powell has since left the government to work in the private sector. McFarland was nominated to become the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore, but she withdrew that nomination in February.
The nation's capital isn't the only stop on the Saudi delegation's trip. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, is also expected to hold meetings with prominent figures in private industries while in the U.S., including Uber, oil companies, and film industry representatives.
As for the Saudi delegation's visit to the White House, it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will comment publicly on the optics of the photo. Or, for that matter, whether there will be any change to the relatively low number of women in Trump's cabinet in the years to come.