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BLUE SMOKE: A monthly column, from PassBlue and UNA–UK, spotlighting senior appointments at the UN

It’s Not Great: Nikki Haley’s Record on Promoting Women’s Rights


Nikki Haley delivering remarks at the UN
Nikki Haley delivering remarks at the UN on the famine risks in certain countries in Africa and in Yemen, above. Her record on promoting women’s rights as US ambassador to the UN has so far has been minimal if not ambivalent. UN PHOTO

The latest approval ratings for President Donald Trump show him slipping to 30 percent approval among women, according to a CNN poll. Trump has one of the least gender-balanced cabinets, with only 21 percent of his appointees women. According to The New York Times, even Ronald Reagan had fewer white men in his cabinet than Trump. Among the five women in Trump’s cabinet-level appointments, a stalwart for women’s issues is sorely lacking.

The most visible of cabinet-level women, the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has a slim dossier of support for empowering women and reaching the broad goals set out by UN Women for eliminating discrimination against women and girls, empowering women and achieving equality between women and men as partners and “beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.”

As a matter of record, Haley’s views on women retaining a traditionally defined role is more greatly documented than her statements promoting gender equality. Even during her US Senate hearing for the ambassadorship in January, Haley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she would bring her conservative values with her to the UN. And she did.

In her book, “Can’t Is Not an Option,” published in 2012, after Haley became the governor of South Carolina on a wave of Tea Party candidates gaining office in 2010, she wrote (emphasis ours):

“During the general-elections campaign, a group of South Carolina women came to me with a pledge they asked me to sign. It committed me to appointing women to high-level positions in my administration if I were elected governor. My white male opponent immediately signed it. I didn’t. I told the group that I wouldn’t sign a quota pledge, but I would promise to appoint the best people for the job, regardless of sex. No one is a bigger booster of women in public service than me. But I didn’t want to appoint a woman because she was a woman — and I certainly didn’t want a member of my team who thought she had the right to be there because she was a woman. I got some heat for this stand.

. . . I realized these groups — the groups claiming to represent women and minorities — are just like any other establishment special-interest groups. They’re looking for politicians who will work for them, not for the taxpayers. But I hadn’t spent seven years fighting the old establishment to be bought and paid for by a new establishment.”

Historically, here are Haley’s stances on some of the most pressing issues for women’s equality worldwide and other social matters defining the gendered meaning of women.

  • On abortion: In 2016, while governor of South Carolina, Haley signed a bill banning abortion after 19 weeks, unless a mother’s life was jeopardized. She told the US Senate, in her confirmation hearing to become US ambassador to the UN, that she was “strongly pro-life.”
  • On access to health and family planning: Speaking in 2012 on ABC’s “The View” daytime talk show, Haley said, “women don’t care about contraception,” causing a public-relations nightmare for her. Her full quote:

“All of my policy is not based on a label, it’s based on what I’ve lived and what I know: Women don’t care about contraception. They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all of those things.”

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Access to contraceptives has been consistently proven to positively affect women’s lives and careers as well as the economy on municipal, national and global levels. (For more information, go to The Guttmacher Institute.)

Haley seems to suggests that contraceptives are useful for stopping abortions. During her Senate confirmation hearings, Haley was asked if she would support the efforts of the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, the world’s leading provider of maternal care in developing countries, and she said: “I will support any efforts that help educate, help plan, help let [women] know what contraceptives are in place” . . .  “to keep from having abortions.”

  • On marriage: Haley has defined marriage as the union between “one man and one woman.”

Since assuming the US role at the UN in February, Haley has had many opportunities to speak up for women’s issues, most notably during the annual Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW, held in March. People from across the world gather at the UN in New York for about 10 days to discuss wide-ranging problems facing women.

Haley, along with the US delegation to the CSW, composed of representatives from the Heritage Foundation, the anti-UN think tank and anti-choice, anti-gay rights organization, and the Center for Family and Human Rights, had little public exposure during the session. Haley’s office issued one statement, and as noted in a PassBlue article, the presence of staff members from the State Department and the US mission to the UN to the 2017 conference was almost nonexistent. One reason may be that the State Department and the US mission were and remain understaffed.

What Haley said at the CSW, nevertheless, was clear on women’s rights: “We want to make sure that our governments support girls and support women so that they always feel like they can show the power of their voice and also be free to act accordingly. We should encourage every country to support these basic rights, and we should help them in any way that we can. But we should also call out any country that is not supporting these basic rights and let them know that we will not stand for it.”

Yet Haley, an active tweeter, remains almost silent on women’s issues on social media. During the Commission meeting, Haley tweeted on the NCAA basketball tournaments four times, personal subjects three times, the London terror attacks of March once, her former job once, music once and the CSW once.

In the 200-plus days that Haley has been in office as the US representative to the UN, she has tweeted about women’s issues five times (counting from her start date and accounting for human error), or slightly less than once a month. She has tweeted about personal topics roughly 62 times, including an honest assessment of her cooking skills, complete with a photo of her burned cookies.

Besides her one tweet about the CSW, Haley has commented on Twitter about the courageous female victims of Daesh/ISIS; the importance of educating girls; and the women in the camps of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa), who she met on an overseas trip.

When tweeting a photo with female Congressional leaders, who make up only 19 percent of Congress, Haley merely called them “strong Congressional leaders.”

Haley’s latest tweet on anything relating to women’s issues? A retweet from Ivanka Trump’s account, which reads: “Great meeting @UN Secretary General @antonioguterres to discuss the critical issues of women’s economic empowerment & workforce development” (details of Guterres’s meeting with Ivanka Trump, a US official, were not revealed by his office, which called his lunch with her “private.”)

Ivanka Trump’s clothing line was recently revealed to be produced in overseas sweatshops with little wages, let alone wage equality and no maternity leave policies, two platforms the First Daughter is said to champion.

Haley offered a small window into her support of family-planning programs promoted by the UN at a June 28 hearing before the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. In a three-hour grilling in which she spoke about a range of topics related to her work at the UN, she was asked about women’s rights.

In that context, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, noted Trump’s total defunding of US contributions to the UN Population Fund and its work providing maternal health care and contraceptives. Frankel urged Haley “to fight to make sure that women have access to health care around the world,” to which Haley replied with a slight diversion, “I have a passion for not only women but children in conflict and so at every position. . . . “

She trailed off, adding that she “always just meets with women” — referring to “separate sidebar” sessions she held with women during her recent trip to refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey as well as to Unrwa in Gaza. Notably, Representative Frankel asked if Haley would be a “champion for the women of the world” and if she would try to convince Trump to overturn the decision to ban US financing to UNFPA.

Haley answered, “I have no problem looking into it.”

In addition, Haley was asked by Rep. Bill Keating, D-Massachusetts, whether UN Women was “valuable,” in light of Trump’s budget proposal to totally defund that agency, too.

Haley said yes, but said she was reviewing all UN entities and said “we’ll find out” if UN Women is indeed useful. Haley, a self-proclaimed believer in following through, said the review would be done in the “short term.”

Haley’s spokesman provided no response to PassBlue as to whether Haley had “looked into” discussing the UNFPA with Trump, nor on what she has discovered regarding the worthiness of UN Women.

As to taking a stand for women, Haley has advocated for those who are victims of conflict and refugees, but when it comes to advocating a global agenda for women, Haley is less consistent. To date, given her record both at the UN and as governor, Haley may not need to worry about being considered, as she said in her book, “bought and paid for” by a new equality-driven “establishment.”

She’s not beholden to Africa, either, it seems: at an Aug. 10 meeting of the UN Security Council on peace and security on the continent, during which most ambassadors spoke movingly about the hardships of women living in conflicts there, Haley was absent. She sent her deputy instead.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.

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