HYDERABAD, India – Ivanka Trump is only scheduled to be in India for two days, but her short trip – dubbed “a royal visit” by the Indian media – has been already peppered with controversies like studs on one of her made-in-China handbags.
She arrived Tuesday to headline a global entrepreneurship summit in the southern city of Hyderabad, where authorities had swept the streets clean of beggars – and some stray dogs.
She came without senior State Department officials, a departure from years past when high-level U.S. envoys joined the conference. The snub by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reportedly over his reluctance to bolster her global image with a high-powered team.
She headlined an event focused on uplifting and supporting women entrepreneurs, but there was no mention of her apparel company’s use of low-wage workers in India and other countries to stitch her clothes.
But at Tuesday’s event, entrepreneurs and business leaders praised Ivanka Trump, describing her as an elegant and professional working mother who built her own business and has been a strong advocate for women while adviser to her father in the White House.
“She is a very fierce and independent woman. That’s what I admire about her,” said Renuka Diwan, the co-founder of an agriculture start-up in Pune. “She’s successful in her own right. Nobody has to introduce her as Donald Trump’s daughter. She has made a name for herself.”
Trump is set to share the dias at the U.S.-sponsored Global Entrepreneurship Summit with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and business leaders. Her keynote speech to more than 1,200 business executives and start-up leaders will touch on her familiar themes of women’s empowerment and supporting entrepreneurship.
“When women work, it creates a unique multiplier effect,” she said in similar speech earlier this month in Japan. “Women are more likely than men to hire other women, to give them access to capital, mentorship and networks . . . If women close the gap with men in all aspects of work and society, it could add trillions of dollars to our annual global GDP over the next decade.”
Ivanka Trump’s apparel company, that she still controls, exclusively relies on foreign factories in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, China and India, where mostly female workers are paid a few dollars a day for long hours, industry experts have said. Earlier this year, The Washington Post found that Trump’s apparel company lags behind many others in the industry in the way it monitors treatment of its mostly female workers.
Entrepreneurs from more than 100 countries attended the event in Hyderabad, nicknamed “Cyberabad” because it’s home to such tech companies as Microsoft, Facebook and Google. On Wednesday, Trump is to appear panel titled “We Can Do It! Innovations in Workforce Development and Skills Training.”
President Trump had announced his daughter would be leading the U.S. delegation to the event after a White House meeting with Modi in June.
Her visit is seen here as an opportunity for India to cement ties with the Trump administration. On Tuesday, Ivanka Trump met for the second time with India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and she will be the guest of honor at a glitzy dinner Modi is hosting Tuesday at a hilltop marble palace that once belonged to a nizam, the monarchs who ruled Hyderabad before India’s independence from Britain.
In India, a country of 1.3 billion people, empowering women is particularly challenging, analysts say. The rate of women joining the workforce has dropped, particularly in rural areas, even as incomes have grown. Female entrepreneurs face specific challenges: only about 14 percent of businesses are headed by women, a third in the agricultural sector.
Female business owners have difficulty accessing capital and being taken seriously in a business culture that is male-driven, entrepreneurs say.
“There are many challenges,” said Thejaswi S., a Bangalore-based entrepreneur creating a line of affordably priced nutrition bars, and who uses only his second initial. “They say, ‘You are female, this is the age you are supposed to get married, not get into business, you are too young to head a company.’ This is what people say, even in my own family.”
Women make up less than 25 percent of the enrollment in higher education, notes Vijayaraghavan M. Chariar, a professor of rural development and technology at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi.
“There are a few success stories but there are very serious issues of patriarchy and gender stereotyping that are preventing a lot more creative women from joining the ranks of entrepreneurs,” Chariar said.
Ivanka Trump, he went on “is a nice Barbie doll. Everybody wants to have a picture taken with her. But there are much more substantial women who are entrepreneurs we ought to be celebrating.”
Trump launched her branded empire in 2007 with a line of high-end jewelry, and gradually expanded toward a line of more affordable clothing, bags and shoes that garnered $100 million in retail revenue last year, according to Forbes.