Through the pouring rain on Saturday night, the Women in the World summit left the Hudson Theatre in New York to shuttle across town to the United Nations, where designer and philanthropist Diane von Furstenberg honored four remarkable women at an elegant and hip awards ceremony. In a typically sedate U.N. function room, von Furstenberg’s African-inspired prints covered tables and chairs, and palm fronds transported guests far away from the hurricane-like conditions outside. “One thing I will be known for is that I transformed the U.N. into a nightclub,” von Furstenberg joked as she took the stage.
Von Furstenberg then moved the audience with the remarkable story of her mother Lily’s 14 months in Auschwitz, her unlikely escape, and the survival against all odds of her fiancé. “She weighed less than her bones should have,” von Furstenberg recalled. Doctors told her that she was lucky, but that she would never have children: “Nine months later, I was born. I believe in miracles.” Her mother’s story was the inspiration behind giving these awards to women who had experienced their own miracles, she said. The awards honor four women every year in the spirit of her mother: a survivor who refused to be a victim.
Von Furstenberg announced that the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation had awarded grants of $50,000 to four women—from Afghanistan, Haiti, South Korea, and Colombia. (Von Furstenberg is married to Barry Diller, CEO of The Daily Beast's parent company.)
The presenters were four female stars in their own right: Meryl Streep, Christiane Amanpour, Robin Roberts, and Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
Streep gave an award to Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2002 and rescued six and a half years later. Betancourt spoke powerfully about her time in captivity and how thoughts of her family carried her through.
"There is something no one can take away from you,” Betancourt said from the podium. “It's the freedom to be who you want to be."
Good Morning America co-anchor Roberts bestowed the “People’s Voice” Award (which was selected by public vote) to Katherine Chon, who is the president and co-founder of Polaris Project, which combats human trafficking and slavery within the United States. Chon said she was galvanized while at student Brown University—where she discovered that women were forced into prostitution at a massage parlor less than two miles from her dorm. Chon’s parents, immigrants from South Korea, were practically glowing from their places in the audience as Chon gave her moving acceptance speech.
CNN’s Amanpour gave another statuette (made by the artist Anh Duong, who was also in the audience) to Sadiqa Basiri Saleem, who is helping educate women in Afghanistan. “When I first received this prize, my friends asked me, Sadiqa, what are you going to do with this prize?” she explained. “I said, ‘I am going to shop in New York!’” All jokes aside, however, Basiri Saleem explained that she would use the grant to open the first college for women in Afghanistan.
Verveer, who is also co-founder and chairwoman emeritus of the women’s empowerment NGO Vital Voices, presented an award to Danielle Saint-Lot, who is working to bring economic empowerment to women in Haiti. “After January 12, I really know what it means to be blessed,” Saint-Lot said of her country’s devastating earthquake. “Thirty-five seconds can change a whole country. I really think that this is our moment. Behind all our tears, we need to move forward.”