How are practitioners/defenders sustaining well-being and security?

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Dear All, the exchanges seem

Dear All, the exchanges seem to point out and confirm the complexity of 'well-being' of which we seem to be all aware of. No approach, technique, philosophy is exclusive...retreat, defriefing, massage,silence, etc. the more options the better... they are entry points to well-being which will have a positive impact on security etc....I guess the point here is to mention experiences...and I remember the experience of several hrd female and male, who, according to their own 'moment' opted for one and then the other and  another technique...eventually transmitting their esperience to others so that it would not be's part of the process. Now the order of the steps is also the result of experience. And I sense the experience of all of us here.

Example:A father of a young man taken away from the 'oppressor', feels guilty and miserable because the child taken away is the child to whom he preferred another of his children. On top that, he feels the burden of helplessness due to the fact that 'he, father, failed to protect his child and he wasn't even able to express to his disappeared child that preferring the other child didn't meant that he didn't love him. He realises this now and can 't share it...'

The oppressor knows human psychology...critical analysis, debriefing, presence, touch, silence...all of it helped the which order? in the order indicated by the father...perceived by the (psychosocial/friend) helper...given by the focus on the result rather than on the process...Aware that making mistakes is human...and the awarness makes it heavier...delicate awareness that support to hrd in need doesn't mean to do or undo a person...rather help the person perceive itself and the situation as complete as possible (mapping) so as to intergrate the dimension of witness and actor, as that will help through the process from victim to survirvor and protagonist again...Theory drawn from shared experience and it is difficult to put it in few sentences.

I remember two victims (and post traumatic disorders) of the same political violence: One giving regular testimony (own therapy: word therapy) to public opinion in tears ,wanting to know what had happen and the other one declaring that they would never be able to ever approach another human being...Probably in the second case,  (re) built sense of 'security/safety/trust' would have to come first...or as only achievable objective.

Resilience plays an important role too.

Complex. It might help if once 'all techniques are on the table' to talk about one at a time so as to discard the risk of one technique being perceived as 'better than the other'...

I am impressed and touched by the complexity brought in this dialogue. Thank you.





dear all! am just joining this a bit late, but have read thorugh all the amazing thoughts and ideas, and want to share some reflections. We at Kvinna in Jerusalem have been working with Israeli and Palestinian activists for about three years now on well being. It's an amazing process, and like many have said, it has to be a process.

With regards to Marie's postings about donors - yes, we have a lot of responsibilities with regards to well being. Here are some things we have done. 1) we fund workshops, follow up, organizations who want to integrate it in their daily work including debriefing, practitioners. Both as projects and directly through organizations. 2) we keep a dialogue going with partner organizations on well being, what is being done for staff, what are the needs, 3) create spaces/opportunities where you can expose women to well being - as it has been discussed not everyone is all too certain about jumping into well being, but we have seen when exposed, then the concept becomes clearer and women have looked to bring it back to their organizations. and last 4) generate local capacity. We will aim to hold a training of trainers in 2013 to build more arabic speaking capacity to be able to lead well being (and integrated security) workshops.

Katherine, your comment about self care being political is super interesting and one that i think we can work with more for several reasons. If it becomes clearer to women that self care is political, there is a greater chance to get more involved. Also, we are starting to explore how this link can be used when working with leaders. In Palestine we have seen the women's movement become very professional and ngo-ified and some women who work for women's organizations are not connected to feminst or political women's rights thinking. At a recent workshop, we could really see how working with well being methods connected women to their bodies and to the political. Many come to feminism through their bodies.

And this brings me to the issue of leadership. Working through feminst approaches to leadership, I think can open up for greater possibilities to integrate well being. Sometimes leaders can be the block - whether they want to be or not. What I mentioned above has created a level of distrust - so working with women in organizations does not guarantee that it will make its way back to the organizations, some fearing their leaders would find it silly or useless. And as well being can provide that link to feminsm, which some established leaders feel has gone missing from their organizations, this can be used as an argument.

Last, I just want to mention that was have to try to bring as many approaches to welbeing as possible. Some methods don't work with everyone. Some want to write, some want to talk, some want to move. Eventually, they might want to do everything, but the key is to find the door through which they are most comfortable.

Looking forward to following the last days of this dialogue and to stay in touch with you!


ps. if anyone has examples of resources in Arabic i would love to reveive them in order to be able to share them here!, and wondering if my, and wondering if my attempt to link well being to feminsm and politics was clear :) Nonetheless, something I would love to get more reflections and thoughts on - as well as concrete methods for how to do it, and more importantly how to frame it as such.

Linda again

mapping urgent responses for WHRDs in arabic and other languages

Linda Öhman wrote:

if anyone has examples of resources in Arabic i would love to reveive them in order to be able to share them here!

Hi Linda! AWID and the WHRD International Coalition developed a mapping of Urgent Responses for Women Human Rights Defenders. The publication outlines different types of available responses, from action alerts to engaging UN mechanisms, from emergency grants to psycho-social support. We produced it in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian. You can download the full publication in Arabic by following the link in the English page, there is a link at the bottom to download in Arabic. Russian can also be found in the English page. French and Spanish can be found in their respective pages on the AWID web site.

Breaking with Patriarchal Leaderships

Linda Öhman wrote:

And this brings me to the issue of leadership. Working through feminst approaches to leadership, I think can open up for greater possibilities to integrate well being.

Hola Linda, you have made a very important point! And I would like to link it with Yvonne's and Analia’s comments about patriarchy.

I have recently contributed to the AWID Friday Files with the article “Wellness, Self-Care And Security – Why This Is Important To Feminism” and shared reflections from interesting discussions taking place in the Meso American region (Mexico and Central America).  

Alchemy of Feminist Popular Education (Alquimia de Educación Popular Feminista) organised a regional online dialogue “Political Dimensions of Self-care”, jointly with the Meso-American Initiative of WHRDs, in March 2012. Discussions raised the issue of self-care as a subversive strategy and similarly, followed the issues we are raising here about patriarchy - as a system that makes women care for others and not for themselves. By becoming aware of self-care as an offense to the oppressive system, it will reinforce our logic and perception of leading collective strategies of defence and confrontation against the attacks and pressure of the patriarchal system, its representatives and its direct and violent manifestations.

Therefore, I see the debate about a feminist approach to leadership that incorporates self-care and wellness, as a key element to be addressed. It is essential that current and new feminist leaders, women activists and WHRDs engage in the development of a culture of self-care and wellness at all levels: individual lifestyles, institutional culture, and at the community level.

I wonder if there are any examples of this type of leadership? If not, how can we start developing leadership practices that lead us to wellness and self-care at the individual and collective levels?

Processes for Risk Assessments When Engaging in New Contexts

Hi All,

Not sure exactly where this fits in, but I think it would be really helpful to get a sense from other organizations and individuals who focus on supporting and training advocates with regard to what, if any, processes they have in place for assessing security risks when they engage with advocates in a new context. For instance, do you begin by completing a risk assessment with some common characteristics that you can apply to any new project/engagement? How do you plan your programming based on this assessment? How do you follow up? Do risks assessments conducted in one context inform work in other contexts?

It would be great to hear if anyone else has been thinking about these topics. 

Personal Note to Participants

Dear all,

I would like to take the time - in a peaceful place in Nature - to  read carefully our different reflections... I would like to breath in the wisdom, richness, creativity, soulful approaches, different experiences and challenges we shared with each other.  Still so much to explore and  learn.

 i was inspired and excited to read ideas of  women i don't know. (yet?) 

i  was inspired and deeply  moved to read words of friends and sisters from the wellness center in AWID and from the Wellbeing and Sustainability workshop of UAF.... both in Turkey!! smile... It was nice to feel the warmth of my heart when reading you. I miss you all !!!

For the last few days i was absorbed with my personal process around the death of my mother a year ago...Tomorrow i go out of town to put the ground to the first training  of wellbeing practices.

I hope to be able to participate. Yet,  i want to thank each of you for this experience. I hope we will have more opportunities to meet, explore and contribute to healing the pain of partriarchy.

Sending you all a big hug.





Cross-pollination and creative practice

Hi All,

Really great to read all your thoughts/ideas/experiences on sustaining well being for hr defenders. Coming to this issue as an artist working between the arts and human rights worlds, well-being translates naturally into freedom - time, space and energy - to practice creativity both as an artist and throughout the work of supporting artists doing the work of activists. I've found that the urgency and volume of cases that we recieve often makes it hard to feel ok devoting more time to the creative aspects of the work (and sustaining the individual artistic practice that brought me to this work) rather than to constantly trouble shoot/problem solve cases, carry out administrative duties and provide the services that hr defenders are in immediate need of.

I recently participated in a two part fellowship for leaders in the arts and culture. The first cohort included a wide range of folks working on issues of legal reform and public policy, death penalty abolition, community organizing, and arts based social justice work towards social justice.  Much of the fellowship focused on shaping personal and organizational visions, maintaining personal ecology, load and time management, etc. I found the cross-pollination that occured in the first cohort to be an illuminating experience of well-being in practice, particularly the common experience of people in related but most often separate fields. In sharing their personal experience of work, the fellows were understanding that the work while approached through different professional practices was at its core emotional work; incredibly fulfilling and equally draining. While the purpose of the training was to equip a group of leaders with tools and practices towards a more balanced "lifetime of activism", I found the real healing aspect of the experience to be in the sharing between participants. In the process of sharing personally, the group began finding commonalities on multiple levels, a practice often not necessary when we spend much of professional and personal time in tight circles of immediate peers. Finding this initial common ground led to conversations about how our work intersected and where there were spaces for us to continue engaging and working with one another beyond the fellowship period. For many it was the first opportunity to think about their work in a broader way, with an expansive vision and the result was a contagious excitement and renewed collective energy. People who are because of their dedication to their work often overworked, underpaid and exhausted need outlets through which to share their work with the larger world, to find inspiration and comfort in the work of others and to imagine endless possibilities for partnership and collaboration between the myriad approaches to defending human rights.

I've found that collective creative processes are a succesful means to work across fields and to remind hr defenders that their work, while complicated, labor intensive and emotional is grounded in a basic humanity that we all possess, and that we all need touched in different sensory and experiental ways on a day-to-day basis. With a broader vision of our work, more seems possible. With renewed excitement and energy, in seeing our work not as a difficult job, but as a "lifetime of activism", fatigue, depression and disillusionment are easier to work through. I'm interested in exploring how we can infuse creative/ art making practices and different ways of communing into our day-to-day work and how across fields and areas of expertise we can build solidarity and a broader collective vision. 

I look forward to working with you all in the future.



Some things I've learnt

Hi all

What a great dialogue! I seem to have missed the timing on this one, but thought I'd share this comment. I do training and one-to-one mentoring of activists in Australia, as well as working to build more community among activists. 

Here's a few things I find useful in my work with activists:


  • Modelling caring as a way to normalise self-care. It makes a difference to be friendly and interested in people. Social change work is predominantly about relationships, but we can get quite utilitarian/functional about these relationships - eg I'm getting to know this person in order to get them to take action, or to access their networks and resources etc. So just being someone who emphasises personal interaction is valuable to the people around us (and beneficial to us too). Asking 'how are you going?' and really meaning it is one way to emphasise self-care.
  • Listening to people about their struggles around striking a balance in their lives and caring for themselves. There are significant barriers to doing this, and people need time and space to process them. It can be really hard to make decisions which push against these barriers, whether they be emotional (feeling bad about not doing enough etc), structural (loss of income or position), relational (eg how changing your work patterns impacts on others), or others. Breaking a ‘bad’ habit involves repeatedly making a decision or commitment, and it often takes support to get there.
  • Normalising struggles. People often feel like they are the only ones dealing with these issues, or that others are much better at it. I like to reframe it as a collective struggle born from an oppressive society – millions of people face these challenges, in different ways. The society I live and work in is very effective at individualising problems and leaving people on their own to figure it out.
  • Emphasising strength. A lot of activists I talk to say they are ‘bad’ at looking after themselves. Self-care becomes something they are failing at, thinking about it is a reminder of that failure. By contrast, getting people to look at how they manage to sustain themselves already is good. Then self-care can be like building the strength of a muscle which may have been neglected for a while but still has the capacity to develop.
  • Affirming people when they make choices to care for themselves. I let people know how pleased I am they’re taking holidays or working more reasonable hours – especially when it looks like they feel guilty or embarrassed about it.
  • Making self-care part of the ‘professional identity’ of an effective activist. Rather than reinforcing an ideal of overwork, recognising people who seem to have got the balance right.
  • Having a light touch. Humour can be really useful for shaking up despair and despondency.

All the best to you all



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