Women Who Redefine Beauty and Power Honored at the DVF Awards

April 11th, 2016

Fighters, survivors, builders and advocates were among those honored with a $50,000 prize at the 7th annual DVF Awards

By ALLISON MCNEARNEY for The New York Times

The fashion was on point Thursday night at the 7th annual DVF Awards, but it wasn’t nearly as stunning as the accomplishments of the women who took the stage to be honored for their work supporting women around the world.

Backed by The Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the DVF Awards honor “women who have had the courage to fight, the power to survive and the leadership to inspire,” with a $50,000 prize. Among this year’s five winners were a survivor of Uganda’s Civil War who fights human trafficking around the world, an award-winning playwright, and a woman creating a community that encourages girls to throw off expectations and be their authentic selves.

“Year after year, this event is an absolute high point of Women in the World. So bold, so passionate are DVF’s honorees, so profound the difference that they make, it’s wonderful to think that she’s shining her spotlight — that magical spotlight that she has — on the great work that they’re all doing,” Women in the World founder Tina Brown said in her introduction of Diane von Furstenberg.

Von Furstenberg kicked off the evening by first saluting two women who were not present: the incredible architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away last week at the age of 65, and 2015 presenter and now presidential-candidate, Hillary Clinton. “Please spread the word. We want her as our president,” von Furstenberg exhorted the champagne-sipping crowd to loud cheers.

But it was the first winner who really stole the show. Sarah Jones is an award-winning playwright who has dedicated her life and much of her work to the empowerment of women. As presenter and actress Allison Williams put it, she is “one of the shepherds of the real revolution.” To accept the Inspiration Award — and to the delight of the audience — Jones brought along a few of her characters, like young Bella who took a group selfie from the podium, telling the crowd to “channel your inner DVF and just try to feel it.” Her last “guest,” an older woman “from the subcontinent,” left the room in stitches with her final message for DVF: “We love you. We want you to know we have been wrapping the sari for a very long time.”

While Jones may have been a tough act to follow, the two winners of the International Award had powerful messages of their own. Maria Pacheco was honored for her work to economically empower women through her company Wakami, which employees rural Guatemalan women to create fashion accessories that are sold in over 20 countries. And Agnes Igoye has dedicated her life to the efforts to end human trafficking around the world, a mission she became committed to after her childhood experience surviving the Ugandan Civil War and the brutal violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“As many of you know, and what I’ve learned through the two decades in this work, traffickers have powerful networks. The networks are in my country, they are here in the USA, they are everywhere around the world,” Igoye said. “The only way we can fight them is to have networks of our own. Networks among girlfriends, networks among NGOs, among law enforcement, social workers, survivors, but above all to empower women.”

Emily Greener, winner of the People’s Voice Award, has also taken up the mission of empowerment through her movement I AM THAT GIRL. In 2008, Greener and a friend started what is now a thriving peer-to-peer community dedicated to “creating a new normal” where girls enable and support each other to be their authentic selves. “What it means to be human is honesty, it’s truth. It’s being who we are instead of who we think we’re supposed to be,” Greener passionately said.

For the final award of the evening, von Furstenberg took the stage one last time to give a powerful introduction of the winner of the Lifetime Leadership Award. “Impossible does not exist for Dr. Martine Rothblatt. But I am possible is Martine Rothblatt,” von Furstenberg said. Rothblatt’s career has spanned an almost unimaginably vast range of interests, from the law of outer space to her role founding Sirius XM. But it’s her work for transgender rights around the world that has really distinguished her as a champion of women.

“I don’t really know if I can possibly put into words what it feels like for a transgendered woman to be recognized by this room full of extraordinarily accomplished women as a woman for being an inspiration and a help to other women,” Rothblatt said.

In her emotional acceptance speech, Rothblatt also praised the work von Furstenberg’s daughter, Tatiana, has done for the transgendered community. Rothblatt ended with a powerful message for the room packed with inspirational figures and activists, about the importance of cultivating the next generation of world changers. “What a wonderful testament to this icon, for me and for, I know, all of you here today, Diane, when a parent is able to have a daughter such as Tatiana that carries on this mission of justice into the next generation,” Rothblatt said. “I don’t think there’s any greater achievement.”