Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Tonight at the DVF Studio in New York, all eyes were on Panmela Castro-in a vivid green dress from the back rooms of a yet unseen collection, she stood out in the crowd gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day-not in the least because her hands were covered in dark fuchsia spray paint. Panmela is one of the six incredible women we’re honoring at the 2010 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards on Wednesday; a graffiti artist from Brazil, she brings the message of women’s rights to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro through art that informs women of their rights under the nation’s only domestic violence law, passed four years ago.

In just two hours, she created a striking painting using only spray paint to send out a very significant message: women have power. Her take on a painting of a warrior who symbolized power and conquest, Panmela replaced the masculine with the feminine-now a woman would be the image of power. Mixing dark colors with bright yellow and fuchsia splashes, she quickly turned a white canvas into an evocative statement.

Before signing the back of the canvas, Panmela added something that distinguishes her work from any other: with a black paint marker, she writes a string of words that hold no meaning in any language-they signify the unspoken words of every woman who has ever been silenced or abused. To see her as she writes this message, a message she intends for all women, is to understand why she does what she does.

Our host, Vital Voices Board Member Diane von Furstenberg, arrived just off the plane from LA, and embraced Panmela while admiring her work. Addressing the crowd gathered, she said that everyday, and especially today, “we should all be proud that we are women.”

Furstenberg shared her love for Vital Voices and said she wanted to do something very special this year, which is why 12 remarkable female artists have been brought together through her vision to create a benefit compilation CD, Proud to be Woman, which will support our work at Vital Voices. Estelle, one of the artists featured on the CD, was in the Studio DJing tonight. Today also marks the first day in a weeklong promotion across all DVF stores and online: 10 percent of every purchase benefits Vital Voices.

Our President and CEO, Alyse Nelson, spoke after Diane, introducing Panmela and describing the importance of her work. Alyse said that Panmela is innovatively using “culture to fight culture,” shaping a different world, one that reflects the equality she portrays in her art. At a time when violence against women is growing worse around the world, Panmela is a powerful and beautiful force for change.

Today was an inspiring start to the week, and we were proud to join so many NGOs and nonprofits around the world in sharing our support and celebrating women internationally. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, co-chaired by one of our 2010 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award honorees, Melinda French Gates, dedicated their website to IWD.

Tomorrow we continue this amazing week of events as we go over to the New York Stock Exchange to ring the opening bell, launching Women Can and Do, an exciting media campaign in collaboration with Diane von Furstenberg and founding partners Standard Chartered Bank, Avon, and Time Inc. Tomorrow is also the first day of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women, a summit hosted by Vital Voices and the Avon Foundation for Women at the State Department. We’re so excited to be partnering with the Avon Foundation for Women, be sure to visit the Avon Products Inc. page on Facebook and become a fan of this great organization supporting women around the world.