No one needs reminding that the world is not a peaceful place, but attendees at Friday’s United Nations Women for Peace Association’s annual luncheon preferred to focus on the positive.
While the annual event honored actor-director-producer Ben Stiller, fashion designer Naeem Khan, philanthropists Albert and Deidre Pujols and “India’s Daughter” filmmaker Leslee Udwin, their messages stressed the need for greater women’s empowerment, improved training, workers’ rights and safety.
Before the program got under way, former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, who cochaired the event, spoke of what needs to happen for fashion companies to help with the problem of human trafficking. “Attention has to be drawn to it. It’s a problem that is sort of under the radar. It exists to a large extent in Eastern Europe, Central America and South America,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not as obvious as you think it would be. There is leverage being exerted against relatives, a village or something like that. It does not necessarily come to the fore; even when you question these young women, they are not coming forward with information in many instances. They have to consider what’s being held over them so it’s not always easy to investigate the issue. We found that in New York. I had interviewed many of the young women.”
Khan, the Women’s Empowerment award recipient, noted the dualism in his native India where there are different forms of women’s empowerment, but also tons of poverty. ”The question is, ‘How do you provide jobs for them and lift these women up who are looking for work? They are wanting to provide and they are amazing artisans,” he said during the prelunch reception.
During a recent trip to Guatemala in search of artisans with Donna Karan and others, Khan said the ones he met with were mostly women. The aim is to help give them information and train them to change what they are making so that they can sell throughout the world. The question is how to incorporate them into fashion and provide jobs for them, the designer said. As for keeping workers safe, Khan noted when you go to a small village in the Amazon jungle, it’s a whole different story with a different value of living. It’s not like you’re going to a favela and there is crime. These are tribes so you are helping them. Safety and all that — yes, you have to get involved. There is a lot to be done with that. That’s a big issue so it’s not so easy to say, ‘I’m going to solve this in one shot.’”
Asked what fashion companies can do to do their part, model Karolina Kurkova, said, “Everybody should treat people well, pay them what they deserve and give them respect anywhere and everywhere. We’re all humans, we all work hard and we should all be treated well.”
Kurkova too has been working hard having launched a baby collection line with Cybex Thursday, which coincided with her birthday. The mother of two had another reason to celebrate — 20 years in the fashion industry.
UNWFPA board member Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (whose mother Barbara Winston serves as UNWFPA president) presented Khan with his award. Wolkoff noted how the designer helps women and children through the Mission International Rescue Foundation in the Dominican Republic among other organizations. “Naeem is not only a creator, a thinker, an inspirer, but most importantly a giver,” Wolkoff said.
Earlier this year he traveled to Guatemala with Donna Karan and others to meet with artisans about potential projects. As for how designers can make a difference in the world, Khan said going to Guatemala, Honduras and India has given him the opportunity to teach them and share his knowledge to help them improve their lives. He also spoke of his foundation and plans to build a design school in Miami that will be adjacent to his design studio.
Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency, or UNHCR, spoke of his own trip to Guatemala last summer where he met three women who had fled gang violence in El Salvador, a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates. “These women didn’t leave these homes because they wanted to. They had no other option if they wanted to stay alive. They left behind their home that had been in their family for generations. They left behind family, they left behind friends. They left everything behind to save their lives,” Stiller said.
In closing, the actor dedicated his award to his mother, his daughter and refugee women all over the world who are having to find their way in a very challenging climate.”
Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Robin Stern, the center’s cofounder and associate director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, were recipients of the Changemakers and Educators award. UNWFPA, the Yale-backed Center, and Facebook are working together to raise awareness about the importance of integrating social and emotional well-being into schools, families and communities as a pathway to peace around the world.