Women around the world have to fight every day for their rights. We can use all the help we can get.

As a new female immigrant to the United States, I see the role of the first lady here as a blessing for women. In my home country, Iran, there is no such role. We barely see the wife of the Iranian President. Most Iranians don’t even know the president’s wife’s name.

In Iran — where earlier this year a majority of women supported the re-election of relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani — it was his campaign promise to give women a greater voice that led many to reluctantly vote for him. Rouhani would do this, he vowed, by appointing female ministers to his future cabinet.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Reuters)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Reuters)

But earlier this month, he said that it wouldn’t be happening, abruptly ending an important national debate and further reinforcing the country’s patriarchal hold.

“I wanted to nominate three women ministers. I decided on individuals and their positions but it did not happen,” he said, without explaining why, according to Iranian state media.

In a move similar to his first term, Rouhani appointed three female vice presidents, which in Iran’s system rank lower than ministers, but are still considered members of the cabinet. He once again shattered the hopes of women in Iran.

If the U.S. president made such a promise and failed to deliver, the first lady would have the chance to become part of the national dialogue. The American system provides for a national mother: a woman with no official policy mandate who wields great power.

Running on women’s issues and making promises during the campaign and then failing to fulfill them has became a trend in Iranian electoral politics, because male politicians know it is impossible to win without women’s ballots.

But in Iran’s system there is no built-in female force who has the opportunity to stand up to powerful men who fail deliver.

Rouhani’s inability to explain how this happened inspired a wide range of reactions from Iranian women, who quickly took to social media to demand an answer. He simply did not provide one.

Is it that hardliners didn’t allow him to choose women, or does he believe it is a political risk not worth taking?

Indeed only one woman has been appointed to a cabinet minister position in the Islamic Republic since 1979. Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, former health minister, served from 2009–13 under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s hardline predecessor.

Former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter as they arrive for a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the grounds of Southern Methodist University in 2013. (AFP/Getty)
Former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter as they arrive for a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the grounds of Southern Methodist University in 2013. (AFP/Getty)

Consider, though, how much America’s first lady can do for her fellow women in different fields and all across the country.

She has vast resources at her disposal. She can visit with normal American women anytime, anyplace. Is there anything or anybody stopping her from reaching out to American women to learn more about their struggles?

So where is America’s first lady? Does she limit herself because she just doesn’t care? Or is she also suffering at the hands of American patriarchy?

We will perhaps never find out whether Melania Trump is as passionate about the struggles American women face, as so many other female immigrants are.

But is that acceptable to, at the very least, the 53 percent of ordinary white American women who voted for her husband?

“I chose not to go into politics and policy. Those policies are my husband’s job,” she told GQ in 2016, seemingly content with not sharing her political views openly.

But how does one live in the center of political universe and have no views, at least about your fellow women?

Where I live now, just a few blocks from the White House, I have heard some women say that Melania is focused on the future of her son. They are willing to give her a pass even if they do not support her husband as president.

First Lady Melania Trump and her son Barron Trump. (EPA)
First Lady Melania Trump and her son Barron Trump. (EPA)

I’m not a mother yet, but I admire any woman who makes being a great one her goal. I come from a culture where mothers are a pillar of society. Holding entire families together in easy and difficult times is a core value.

But why doesn’t Melania at least reach out to other moms?

In over seven months any interactions she has had with mothers have been in very formal capacity. Her only White House event with American mothers was hosting the mothers of U.S. military personnel. She didn’t even tweet condolences to the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed in Charlottesville.

I naturally assumed that, because she was first an immigrant and is now seemingly an integrated American, she would have a better understanding of this country’s women from both sides. But she rarely publicly reaches out to women. She does not embrace the role.

To the millions of women in this country, it simply shows ambivalence. It shows she neither wants to be involved in the political and social aspects of American life, nor is she overly concerned with expanding women’s roles.

She has obviously been quiet regarding her husband’s immigration, travel ban and LGBTQ policies. These policies (among many others) affect the rights and lives of tens of millions of women in this country, including me.

It seems as though, despite being the first lady of the most powerful country in the world, she doesn’t value her role as I would hope she would.

Maybe she believes the most important impression she can have on ordinary American women is with glamour and beauty, and not her intellectual capabilities.

If that’s the case, I am sad to see her waste her opportunity.


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