Omega’s Women & Power Conference Explores What’s Possible
“When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” So goes the Chinese proverb. The influential women gathering at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY this weekend, September 21 – 23, for the biennial Women & Power Conference can’t be accused of sleeping, but they sure are moving mountains with their work, words, and actions.
This year’s conference bears the theme “What’s Possible,” reflecting its intended goal; by bringing together powerful, creative women from across the globe who are leaders in many aspects of life – politics, business, academia, the arts, and social activism – Omega hopes to inspire women to recognize, embrace, and act on their own ability to effect positive change in the world.
Clockwise: Majorca Carter, Eve Ensler, Isabel Allende, Pat Mitchell
As in years past, Omega has lined up an impressive group of extraordinary presenters who can serve as models for what women can achieve with sufficient passion and motivation. The headliners alone would make for a meaningful weekend. Award-winning actor, director, and humanitarian Sally Field, a force in peace and human rights movements around the world, will deliver a keynote address. Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, the award-winning author of The Vagina Monologues founded V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, reproductive health, and sex education, gained even greater respect and influence earlier this year when her organization fought back political attacks. MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient Majora Carter, who coined the phrase “Green the Ghetto” and hosts the Peabody Award-winning public radio series The Promised Land, is a pioneer of urban green-job training and a proponent of sustainability in the city.
Women & Power presenter Edit Schlaffer
Lest the conference sound all-too first world, the roster of speakers also includes women who are taking the lead in critical issues across the globe. Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, PhD, who served as coordinator of victims’ testimonies on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is an expert in trauma and the reparative aspects of forgiveness in the aftermath of gross human-rights violations. Edit Schlaffer, PhD, founder of Women without Borders, who is recognized for her focus on the importance of self-confidence as women seek to gain power in the Middle East, Africa, India, and hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan, has established the first women’s global antiterrorism organization, SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism). Women from India and Pakistan and North and South Korea will discuss working together to bridge differences and bring about peace in a new way.
Also speaking is Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of The Paley Center for Media, who was the first female president and CEO of PBS. The self-avowed “women’s conference addict” (who claims she attends six or seven each year) notes, “I never feel quite as empowered or powerful as I do at Omega’s Conference.” That’s a pretty big statement for Mitchell, cited by the Huffington Post to its list of the Most Powerful Women Over 50 and named to Newsweek’s list of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
Perhaps her sentiment is due to both the engagement of both the presenters (nearly 30 women) and the attendees (about 500 – mostly women – are expected to fill the halls). Or perhaps it’s the venue – a bucolic, 195-acre camp-like setting, with a lake, yoga and meditation classes, healthful whole foods, removed from the stresses of work and family. “There is something about stepping out of the pace of everyday life,” says Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute, and author of the New York Times bestseller Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. “There is something unique and magical about bringing women together in real time in a relaxed and beautiful setting so that the authenticity of who we are can bubble up to the surface.”
Women & Power presenter Sally Field
Lesser, who founded the Women & Power Conference in 2002, has spearheaded the Institute’s latest initiative: the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC), which will be officially launched on Saturday. Sally Field will kick off the evening, followed by a conversation between Eve Ensler and novelist Isabel Allende, author of the magic realism classic The House of Spirits, about the power of imagination and its role in creating change. According to Michele Bertran, assistant director of OWLC, the Center arose from a sense of need among conference participants and organizers. “There was a groundswell of interest and desire for ongoing programs.”
Says Lesser, “One thing we have been watching for years, and intuitively know, is that women have the opportunity now to be a new kind of leader. Women have entered the workplace and leadership, and it’s a time for many women to ask a new kind of question about power and leadership; not just how can I get more of it, how can I join what’s already in action, but how can I become a different kind of leader, and what do I want to use my power for? That’s the big question that we feel is a wave that’s cresting and we are part of it…. We’re training women not only to become empowered, but once they get that power to use it for the benefit of the forward evolution of humankind.”
Should the weekend and its goals seem a bit too heady, the program also includes performances by a global array of dancers and musicians, as well as workshops in everything from yoga, tai chi, and meditation to writing and financial planning. And no one would be chided for sneaking off to take a walk in the woods (or a nap in a hammock).
Chances are, though, that women motivated to attend will remain present for the entire program, and even awaken enough of their own personal power to make the earth tremble, if not move mountains. Author Gina Hyams of Great Barrington, who attended the Women & Power Conference two years ago with her then-15-year-old daughter, Annalena, describes it as “a peak experience” for both of them. “The global perspective at the conference was profound, with speaker after speaker giving talks that were both eye-opening and mind-blowing,” she says. “They were kick-ass activists addressing the grimmest of world problems – war, rape, poverty – with creativity, brilliance, and fortitude. The event was an emotional roller coaster, ultimately inspiring and uplifting.” —Colleen Challenger Schropfer
Omega Institute’s Women & Power Conference
Friday, September 21 through Sunday, September 23
150 Lake Drive