Penelope Cruz received her Donostia award from Bono Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Cruz - who is also gracing the poster of the 67th edition - at 45, is the youngest actress to have received the award. The youngest male recipient was Ewan McGregor, who was 41 when he was given the accolade.
The actress previously presented the Los40 Golden Music award to the Irish star and he returned the favour ahead of a screening of Oliver Assayas' The Wasp Network. After a standing ovation that lasted several minutes, she said as a child she had always daydreamed of acting.
She added: "To me, acting was always a necessity. After all these years of working in it, my respect and love for this profession just keeps growing. This job gives you moments in which your soul flies and you need to get rid of your ego to understand all these different and fascinating lives and give to each of them all the dignity and respect they deserve."
She dedicated the award to her husband Javier Bardem and their children Luna and Leo before turning her speech to more political matters.
She said: "I want to put an end to my speech by addressing a topic that doesn't have much to do with cinema, although cinema always has something to do with life.
"Actresses are constantly asked if we think that the situation of women in terms of equality is improving. I can only answer that so far this year, 44 women have been murdered by gender-based violence in our country; and since 2003 more than a thousand. How many women are being murdered around the world? I hope that when a woman finds the superhuman strength she needs to tell what she is going through in such a situation, she will be heard at first and not when it is too late."
Earlier in the week, Donald Sutherland, 84 - who came to the festival with his dog Porter - also received a Donostia and used the platform to hit out at the UN over inaction on climate change.
He said: "The attitude at the UN is bullshit. “I have children, I have grandchildren, and the world that I have left them, and am going to leave them, is not one they’ll be able to live in."
Sutherland received his Donostia on Thursday, ahead of a screening of The Burnt Orange Heresy.