Cover Diane Von Furstenburg (Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images For Diane Von Furstenberg)

The annual awards ceremony, which celebrates women transforming the lives of other women around the globe, include Burmese human rights activist Wai Wai Nu this year

The first time I met Diane von Furstenberg was at Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary bash in New York City. In the midst of the biggest names in cinema and fashion, von Furstenberg came to me and complimented my dress. It made my night and spoke to the kind of person the fashion designer is—one that would graciously take the time to compliment a perfect stranger and make her feel seen.

Last night her annual DVF Awards, von Furstenberg highlighted five women far more deserving of the spotlight for their efforts in furthering women’s rights around the world. For the last 12 years, von Furstenberg—best known in American fashion for popularising the wrap dress which offered freedom of movement while allowing them to look professional and feminine—sought to recognize and support extraordinary ladies who are dedicated to transforming the lives of other women, by offering an award and a USD50,000 investment.

For the first time ever, the awards were held in Paris by invitation of The Women’s Forum, a leading French platform with a mission to amplify female voices on pressing global issues. “Paris is an incredibly emotional place for me, because it was here that I was first exposed to feminist literature and the first place I felt truly free,” says von Furstenberg before the awards.

See more: These Fashion Brands Are Supporting Women Empowerment

Throughout her 49-year career, von Furstenberg has since travelled the globe and found like-minded women everywhere she went, including Asia. Von Furstenberg says she’s incredibly proud of the 60 stores she owns in China and her loyal following there (her recent digital show during Shanghai Fashion Week was a critical success) but it was one of her trips to Indonesia that inspired her most.

“There was a time in the late Seventies that I discovered Bali and that changed my life,” she says. “A lot of my prints came from that time, inspired by these beautiful flags they put up around towns when they have celebrations and I brought them back to my home in Connecticut. I still have them, they’re very close to my heart.”

Her love affair with Asia continues with a print-tastic collaboration with Thai fashion brand Jaspal for a capsule collection launching this season. “You know I find that all women are strong, but Asian women are even stronger because of the struggles they’re still facing today,” she says. “In fact, one of my honourees tonight is from Burma.”

See more: First and Female: 9 Trailblazing Asian Women Pioneers

The recipient of the DVF International Award is 34-year-old Wai Wai Nu, a Burmese human rights activist who was a political prisoner for seven years and came out fighting even harder against the military junta and its crimes in the war-torn country. “I’m so inspired by the women’s rights movement in Sri Lanka and India. Asia is one of the regions that has a lot of repressive norms for women traditionally and culturally, and it’s extremely difficult for women there to ask for equality. So when I see the activists in my fellow Asian countries succeed it inspires me a lot because if they can make progress, why can’t we?”

Other honourees included: 24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate who recently spoke at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference urging global leaders to “make fewer promises and more action”; Dr. Rouba Mhaissen whose life mission is to advocate for thousands of displaced Syrian refugees; and CNN war correspondent Clarissa Ward who won Peabody and Emmy Awards for her reporting in India, Russia, and most recently, Afghanistan.

“Being a woman was actually an advantage for my reporting in Syrian because often as a woman you’re not seen as a threat or a spy or a mercenary in the way my male colleagues might be, but I’ve also been in situations where I’ve been told I’m not getting an interview because I’m a woman,” says Ward, who would stitch video memory cards to her underwear to get footage across the Syrian border.

See more: Meet 4 Women Who Are Breaking Taboos in Hong Kong

As a special surprise, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde made a speech, followed by a video montage with global female officials from Hillary Clinton to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, all praising Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel for being an inspiration to women through her formidable career and for showing compassion towards the plight of Syrian refugees.

Melinda Gates, who was honoured with the DVF Lifetime Achievement Award sent her thanks through video, along with a warning that “COVID has set women back 35 years” referring to the spike in domestic violence and women dropping out of work for childcare during the pandemic.

The night concluded with a special appearance by Little Amal, the 3.5 metre tall giant puppet created by a young Syrian refugee child that will travel across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the UK to raise awareness on the plight of Syrian refugees.

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