BY JORDAN LARSON for The New York Times – Presented by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation in conjunction with the Women in the World Summit, the annual DVF Awards in New York City on Thursday celebrated the strength and dedication of women around the world. The Foundation honored six philanthropists with five $50,000 awards to help further their work of empowering women around the world, from developing sustainable economic practices in Samoa to providing job training in impoverished communities. Among those honored were Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the United States’ first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department, and Gabrielle Giffords, who has dedicated her life to fighting gun violence after being shot in 2011 while serving as a U.S. Representative from Arizona.
Hosted in a suite at the United Nations headquarters overlooking the East River, the celebration brought together powerful women from all walks of life; award presenters included actresses Dakota Fanning and Maggie Gyllenhaal, model Naomi Campbell, and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Following an opening performance by French pop group Christine and the Queens, Tina Brown began the evening of recognition with a tribute to the fashion mogul (and her longtime friend) Diane von Furstenberg. “True beauty… is strength,” she recalled her friend telling her. “I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t strong.”
Von Furstenberg then took the stage, emphasizing in her speech that the fight for women’s equality around the world is far from over. “The situation for women in the world is not what it should be. And we are regressing,” she said, citing violence against women and human trafficking as pressing concerns. “Let us remember, if we have a voice, it is our obligation and privilege to use that voice for those who have none.”
Hillary Clinton presented the first award of the evening—the Lifetime Leadership Award—to Ambassador Melanne Verveer, with whom she worked as both First Lady and Secretary of State. “Everywhere women need a champion, she shows up,” said Clinton. “She is the advocate that women and girls need in their corner.”
Verveer was appointed the country’s first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department by Obama in 2009, and also served as the U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Between working in Clinton’s State Department and as the First Lady’s chief of staff, Verveer has spent a lot of time traveling and working with Clinton. “I have become a certified member of the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits,” she noted, to laughter from the audience. Now, Verveer directs Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, which promotes the role of women as peacemakers through scholarship and research. “If we just look at women as victims, no matter what they endure, we will never see them for the leaders that they are,” said Verveer.
Naomi Campbell then presented Adi Tafuna’i with a Vital Voice Award for her work building sustainable economies in Samoa and other Pacific island nations, where families are often split apart when adults leave to find work elsewhere. “We are so isolated from markets,” she said, so she has helped Samoa develop small markets of its own by educating women and helping keep them in their communities.
Through Tafuna’i’s work, Samoan coconut oil is now an export in high demand, and a key ingredient in more than 30 products distributed by The Body Shop. Maggie Gyllenhaal then presented the second Vital Voice Award to filmmaker and activist Samar Minallah Khan, who has spent her life documenting cultural forms of violence against women in Pakistani communities, from honor killings to the use of dowries in marriages. The tradition of giving female family members as compensation in disputes, known as swara, was outlawed in 2004 after Khan launched a campaign against the practice. “It is time to strengthen alliances and build partnerships with men to challenge such inhuman customs and traditions,” she said. “Let us have all those men as partners in this journey who are brave enough to respect women as human beings. These are the ideas that this award will help in realizing.”