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Ann Taylor, Glamour celebrate female empowerment on International Women’s Day

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Female global leaders stressed the benefits of empowering women for society at the first-ever International Women’s Day event sponsored by Ann Taylor and Glamour magazine on Saturday afternoon.

The event, held at Ann Taylor’s New York City flagship on 645 Madison Ave., focused on women's initiatives. The panel discussion featured Barbara Bush, CEO and founder of Global Health Corps, a nonprofit organization whose fellows aged 30 and under support health equity, and Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova, founder and chair of Happy Hearts Fund, a nonprofit organization that rebuilds schools and supports children following natural disasters. Genevieve Roth, Glamour’s special projects director, moderated the discussion.

Ann, Inc., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, announced its commitment to support 100,000 women in its global supply chain community by 2018 as part of ResponsiblyAnn, its corporate responsibility initiative.

“For us now, celebrating International Women’s Day is an extension of our commitment to women,” said Jeannette Ferran Astorga, Ann, Inc.'s vice president of corporate social responsibility.

The company also participated in the International Women's Day Forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the United Nations and hosted a summit on breast cancer with The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, according to a press release.

Nemcova started her organization, Happy Hearts Fund, after getting injured during the tsunami in Thailand in 2004. The organization has built or rebuilt 85 schools in seven countries. Women, she said, play a fundamental role in their children's education.

“Women made those decisions and so they're a huge driver," she said. "It's so beautiful to see how much it means to them when a new school opens up. It's the most incredible experience."

Giving women more control over the health decisions they make such as having less children or spacing out their children improves their children's conditions, Bush said. Half of Global Health Corps fellows — who work in the United States, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Zambia — work on women's health issues.

“In global health, we know that if we invest in women’s health issues, they live longer and healthier lives and obviously their children live longer and healthier lives, therefore there’s healthier communities,” she said.

The panelists agreed that men have an important role in empowering women but insisted that everyone can contribute to the process.

“Even on a feminine level, a community level, or even government level. We have now 56 percent of women in government,” Nemcova said. “At every level, we can empower women a little bit more. And women can empower women, too.”

Plus-size model SallyAnn Thibedeaux, 31, of the Upper West Side, said she appreciated the panelists using their background and influence to address women's issues.

“I loved the feeling of empowerment in the room and these women are using their influence for good,” Thibedeaux said.

Brooklyn resident Nicole Madison, 33, appreciated Nemcova’s point that innovation takes different types of people. The lack of diversity on the panel and in the audience emphasized the importance of addressing women of different backgrounds, she said.

“It certainly speaks to the need for more diversity, especially just thinking about international relations, you really have to nurture and elevate all types of women,” she said.