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[Newsmaker] Melania Trump promotes gender equality in sports among youths

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Nov 7, 2017 - 19:03
  • Updated : Nov 7, 2017 - 19:15
US first lady Melania Trump on Tuesday stood in front of some 80 teenagers in South Korea to speak about gender equality in sports among youths, on the first day of her two-day stay here. 

US first lady Melania Trump gives a speech during "Girls Play 2!" Initiative, an Olympic public diplomacy outreach campaign, at the US Ambassadors residence in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In blue stiletto heels and a structured dark brown coat, Melania set foot in South Korea alongside her husband Donald Trump on a state visit to the Asian country. South Korea marks the second leg of US President Trump’s Asia tour, following a three-day visit in Japan.

Before heading to Cheong Wa Dae, the first lady carved out time to give a solo speech at a kick-off event for the “Girls Play 2!” Initiative, the US Embassy’s Olympic public diplomacy outreach campaign, while President Trump tackled the issue of regional security at Camp Humphreys, located 70 kilometers south of Seoul, in Gyeonggi Province. The event was held at the Habib House within the US Embassy, the residence of the US ambassador in downtown Seoul.

“When children play sports, they learn about teamwork, dedication, discipline and how to succeed under pressure,” she told a crowd of 80 middle school students.

“When we ensure boys and girls have equal access to sports, we are ensuring they have an equal chance to gain these valuable skills,” she added, while saying the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will be an opportunity to “bring the world together.”

In line with Melania’s speech, K-pop boy band SHINee’s Choi Min-ho and Olympic short-track gold medalist Cho Ha-ri also took the podium to speak about “equal access” to playing sports and encourage girls to pursue their dreams in the field. The first lady then interacted with a group of students at the site and watched them participate in a round of hockey at Olympic-themed stages prepared by the embassy. 

US first lady Melania Trump smiles next to K-pop boy band SHINee`s Choi Min-ho at "Girls Play 2!" Initiative in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The first lady has consistently expressed her advocacy for gender equality and women’s rights, citing that her immigrant status helped her foster interest in the area, she said during a White House luncheon celebrating International Women’s Day in March.

Upon arriving at Cheong Wa Dae, she teamed up with her South Korean counterpart Kim Jung-sook to aid her husband in solidifying a stable alliance with South Korea. The first ladies spent time at a welcoming party that involved 52 children, including 20 family members of the US 8th Army and employees at the US Embassy here. The children had participated in the official welcoming ceremony honoring the US president and first lady on their first state visit here.

The two later delivered knitted scarves in the colors shared between their respective national flags -- red, white and blue -- to thank the children for their warm welcome.

The pair then moved to Sanchunjae, a wooden traditional Korean house inside Cheong Wa Dae, for a brief teatime before their husbands joined them.

Chocolate-coated dried persimmons made from fruits Kim had personally picked from trees on the grounds of Cheong Wa Dae were served with a locally blended tea labeled “Serene Morning of PyeongChang.” The tea, which was inspired by the alpine host town of the Winter Olympics in Gangwon Province, combines hydrangea from the 700-meter Balwangsan in the region with Western and Oriental herbs.

The tea embodies the hope to solidify and continue the decades-old alliance between South Korea and the US, a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

During her two-day visit here, Melania is expected to refrain from making any political or diplomatic statements while fulfilling her duties as the president’s wife.

“She’s trying to stay in her comfort zone and not be a lightning rod. ... She’s doing the bare minimum that she can without causing problems for her husband as president while taking on the safest of pet projects, mostly focusing on children,” Jean Wahl Harris, a professor at the University of Scranton and first lady historian, recently told Newsweek.

In Japan, Melania and her Japanese counterpart Akie Abe visited an elementary school in Tokyo where she practiced traditional calligraphy with students.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s director of communications, told CNN that she “knows she is representing the United States, and wants to be sure she is appropriate in all that she does” during her foreign trips. The office of the first lady did not respond to requests for comment.

“Mrs. Trump always wants to be thoughtful and respect the traditions and protocols of the countries she visits,” she added.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)