Why Saudi Arabia’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund Donation Is So Controversial

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The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will donate to the Women Entrepreneurs Fund, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced Sunday. Together, the two nations will donate $100 million to the cause initially proposed by Ivanka Trump. Kim said that the fund, which the World Bank is managing, is aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs around the world, and called its establishment "a stunning achievement." The announcement was rife with irony for a number of reasons.

For one, Saudi Arabia is an incredibly oppressive country with regard to women's rights. Saudi women aren't allowed to drive, nor can they travel, get married, or leave prison without a male "guardian's" permission. The list doesn't end there, as the country imposes many other restrictions on its female citizens. So, the prospect of Saudi Arabia donating millions of dollars to empower women seems like something more fitting for an article in the Onion than a real-life news event.

Moreover, the donation calls to mind a similar business relationship, one that Ivanka's father Donald criticized mercilessly during the presidential campaign. That would be the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization which, at certain points in time, accepted donations from the Saudi Arabian government, according to its donor list. During the campaign, Donald expressed outrage at this on multiple occasions, insinuating that by running an organization that accepted Saudi money, his Democratic opponent was complicit in the Saudi government's worst human rights offenses.

"Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays," Donald wrote in a July 2016 Facebook post. "Hillary must return all money from such countries!"

Donald hit the same note during the third presidential debate. Addressing Clinton, he said:

At the time, a Clinton spokesperson said that "the policies that governed the foundation’s activities during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state already went far beyond legal requirements" governing the foundation. Furthermore, Josh Schwerin, Clinton's former national spokesman, emphasized in a statement to Politifact that Clinton did not play a role in the foundation while she served as secretary of state. " ... She did not blink before standing up to countries that oppressed their people and denied them of their rights, from LGBT rights to women's rights," he said.

Kim made the donation announcement at a forum in Saudi Arabia that Ivanka was also attending. In fact, during her visit, she publicly admired the nation's "progress" in furthering women's rights. And while it's certainly positive that the Women Entrepreneurs Fund is gaining money, nations like Saudi Arabia should be able to back up their monetary donations with actual gender equality in their society. And if the Clinton Foundation accepting money from Saudi Arabia truly bothered Donald as much as he suggested, he and Ivanka should be standing up for women's rights in Saudi Arabia as well.