The 2011 East Bay Women's Conference is titled "Embrace Strength -- Imagine Success."
Those are words Eve Ensler would love women to use more often.
"I speak all over the world all the time; sure, the cultures are different, but all of us -- particularly women -- are in the same worldwide struggle," said Ensler, a playwright and author best known as the author of "The Vagina Monologues," a multisegmented play.
Ensler is the keynote speaker at the conference, taking place Monday, March 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the San Ramon Marriott. It is being organized by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce.
Ensler lives in France most of the time now. She is currently resting and writing there before she tours the U.S. in March for the release of the NY Times Best-seller "I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life Of Girls Around The World," in paperback. Her presentation in San Ramon coincides with that tour.
Ensler and other members of V-Day, the global activist group she founded to stop violence against women and girls, recently helped start a village in Congo called the City of Joy. There, victims of violence and rape can heal, learn and empower themselves.
After seeing firsthand the effects of brutal gender-based violence, Ensler sees the challenges women in the West face as just another form of that same oppression.
"The West has its own forms of oppression." In San Ramon, she wants to speak about how women can "embrace our strength,
"I just finished this book about young girls, and it saddens me that we still foster in young women this verb to please, instead of to create, to dare, to imagine or to protest."
She is looking for recruits for the V-Day movement wherever she goes.
"I am an activist and I know that movements change the world," she said. "Look at Egypt and Tunisia. I consistently believe that if women can be united we can support each other coming into our power."
V-Day was founded after she saw how women reacted to "Monologues."
"From 'The Vagina Monologues,' I learned that women telling our story shakes things up. It frees other people to tell their truth which empowers others.
"We can live a life that we long for, not a life that is forced upon us."
In her upcoming speaking engagements, Ensler hopes to inspire people with the experiences of the Congolese women who helped build the City of Joy, as well as the girls she wrote about in her most recent book.
"I feel like the opening of the City of Joy was one of those turning point moments. You could feel the momentum shifting.
"I am going to be talking about girls around the world who have managed to turn pain to power. They have been able to find the voice within them and redirect their lives so they don't wait to be rescued. They have taken initiative. "I am going to talk about the power of telling their story and telling their truth."
Ensler hopes people don't take the wrong lessons from recent high-profile examples of sexual abuse, including a CBS reporter being assaulted in Egypt.
"Sadly, women get harassed and beaten all the time all over the world. One of three women on the planet will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. Certain stories get publicity, but in that same crowd, I can almost guarantee that there were Egyptian women being abused as well.
"If you choose to go into any profession anywhere in the world, you are at risk. It's important that we don't see this as an isolated case, unfortunately.
"We shouldn't make it about the Middle East, or Africa. It happens in fancy places. It happens in Beverly Hills. Some people think 'It's not here, it's there.' It doesn't matter where you go there is violence against women.
"I've been going to Congo for 4 1/2 years and nobody has ever threatened me. But I have been harassed just walking down the street in L.A."
After experiencing success with her plays, books and activist group, Ensler still feels a strong desire to speak out.
"The world is in a very delicate place. Water is running out. I am seeing the kind of impact of global warming is having. So many people are out of work and poor."
"One of the reasons I am giving speeches at this point in my life is to help people come into their voice and power. Egypt and Tunisia is incredibly inspiring. People said they have had enough.
"Together, women can shift our relationship to the earth, money, distribution of wealth, and education. That's really why I give speeches, in the hope that these shifts will happen."