Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Women and Power at Omega Institute

A few weeks ago I attended the Women and Power Conference at Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, New York.

It's becoming a habit, for me, to go back, year after year.   I love seeing old friends, meeting new ones, listening to inspirational talks and fantastic music, and moving my body to new rhythms.  For me, it's timely.  As a college professor, Women and Power coincides with the beginning of the school year.

What could be better than joining with women from all over the world, to share and learn more about women's global rights both in international political contexts and within the personal?  That's Women and Power's special gift--making the 'political' personally meaningful.

The line up of presenters included Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega; Sally Field, actress and humanitarian; Majora Carter, environmental justice activist; Eve Ensler, feminist activist and playwright; Isabelle Allende, writer; Chung Hyun-Kyung, Ecofeminist Buddhist and Christian Nun; Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parent; Bell Hooks, feminist writer and activist; and Gail Straub, women's and human rights activist, among many others.


Stories flowed and so did tears.  Women reached out to listen and hold each other and learn.

BRIDGES.  We learned of programs worldwide lead by women to build bridges, cross borders, and end prejudice and violence.

ARTS.  Women artists, writers, and musicians made a sacred space of and for creativity. Women drummed, cheered, danced and sang.

EMPOWERMENT.   Tales were told by NGO and GRASSROOTS organizers and business women of the good work they are doing worldwide.

SPIRITUALITY.  A wide variety of religious/spiritual practices formed a nurturing circle for the weekend.  Movement, yoga, breath work, meditation, prayer and drumming fed the spirit.

Some highlights:

The powerful speech by Eve Ensler about her cancer story, the need for speaking the truth (getting past the "Cassandra" myth) and about her incredible movement, One Billion Rising, set to end violence against women worldwide on February 14, 2013--V DAY. You can read her talk here.

Eve's rousing call to end rape and violence against women concluded with joyful drumming/music and five hundred women dancing.

A joyful moment happened when Chung Hyun-Kyung, Ecofeminist and Christian/Buddhist Nun- during her inspiring speech about the need to unite our world religions- bubbled up with laughter and exclaimed, "I'm having a group orgasm!"

Also to be noted and commended: Omega walks the walk.  Many scholarships are given to women from all over the world to attend.  Two years ago I brought four students on scholarship to Women and Power.  Lo and behold, I ran into one of these gorgeous young women, Saajida Stacker, now pregnant, with her little nephew and female cousin.  They came on their own to Omega, on scholarship.  I felt the blessings of passing the torch, to the babe in the womb, to the inner city little boy who played basketball while his mom and aunt participated in the conference.

Oh, yes, and there was fun:  yoga in the morning and afternoon, walks in the woods, and rowing on Omega's clear lake.  

At the Saturday evening gala celebration we listened to Isabelle Allende and Eve Ensler talk about how they move past the silences of female repression in their lives and work, and how they express the "female experience" in literature.

The evening closed with live award-winning music and dancing.

On the final day, we heard from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, speak about the power and meaning of women's rights over their bodies.  Richard's words were poignant for me as an American woman, particularly during this presidential election period.  After listening--all weekend--to the stories about violence against women worldwide, and the dangers posed to women and girls in so many places on this planet, Richards reminded us that here, in the U.S., it really matters whom we vote for when it comes to women's health and human rights.

The thread of silence, violence, and oppression ran throughout the weekend--yet this was countered with inspiring stories of actions of and for healing, communication, reconciliation, and empowerment.

I left with a deep sense of gratitude and respect for all that women do across the globe to make radical change, and deep gratitude for the Omega's Women's Institute for bringing us together to learn of such remarkable work.

Will I come back again next year?  Oh yes.

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