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

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


Many of the feature resource practitioners leading this dialogue have a particular interest and expertise in the concerns and contexts of women human rights defenders (WHRDs). We hope to share interesting feminist debates/approaches and what we have learned from our own experiences working with WHRDs so that these tactics and ideas can be adapted to other human rights defenders, and to explore how we can best address the diverse needs and realities among human rights defenders. We also hope to learn from practitioners and defenders working with other groups on sustaining well-being and security – whether it be in mixed organizations, with male defenders, LGBTI, rural areas, diverse cultures, etc.  Although we may be looking at this topic through the lens of WHRDs, we are not limited to sharing experiences, ideas, questions, and challenges we have in working with all human rights defenders.

If you are new to these dialogues, please take a moment to review our summary of past dialogues on well-being and security

Share your experiences!

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • How are organizations integrating well-being and security on an institutional level? 
  • How are human rights defenders integrating well-being and security on a personal level?  How are human rights defenders sustaining their well-being and security on a collective level?
  • How are human rights defenders and practitioners addressing well-being and security for diverse audiences (i.e. cultural contexts, women, men, LGBTI)?  How can these tactics be used in other contexts?
  • How are funders sustaining well-being and security of the people and programs that they support?
  • How do tactics, strategies and techniques differ between the international and the local levels?
  • What approaches are working?  What ideas are interesting?  What can we learn from these examples?

Share the innovative ways that practitioners/defenders (you and/or others) are sustaining the well-being and security of human rights defenders by adding your comments below and/or replying to existing comments!

Welcome and laying the groundwork for dialogue

Welcome to our fourth dialogue in a series of conversations that we have hosted on well-being and security of human rights defenders!  We are thrilled to have so much interest and enthusiasm around this topic.  We are also excited to be hosting this dialogue with our friends at the Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative for the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) - Analia and Katherine!

In this dialogue, we won't be spending too much time defining what we mean by "human rights defender", "well-being", "security" and the relationship between all of these things.  We have already collecting many perspectives through our past dialogues.  To help you catch up, we put together a summary of the information shared in those dialogues!  Please take a moment to review that information so that we can start this conversation by sharing the tactics and approaches for sustaining the well-being and security of human rights defenders.  Also, I encourage you to reference this summary as your write your comments if you feel like a little more context would be helpful.

Thank you for being here!

apporaches at different levels and in different contexts

 Good morning ... it is a lovely, calm day in Hong Kong, as tropical cyclone Talim has by-passed Hong Kong .. 

To begin with the first question:  IWE ran a small, random questionaire at the AWID Forum, and the results showed that not very much is being done at institutional level on well-being - for different resaons, the most often one given being "lack of resources" , but also significantly, because of lack of conviction that it is important, and lack of knowledge of how to do it.  I think, these are the fundamental reasons why, although the awareness of the importance of wellbeing, self-care and security for both individuals and organisations, is growing (tangibly, as we saw during the AWID Forum), it has not come to a "change of mind-set", as I call it. How does one become convinced that this is a fundamental issue... and not one only to consider in our leisure moments, when we are not too busy, when there is a lull in acitivities....?  Because no one can "sustain the well-being  - or security - of another" -  one's personal conviction and attention is the only guarantee that it will work.  

The second point that I would like to raise here is the importance of a "contextual approach".  Also from IWE's experiences (small as they are) - we particiapted in running regional workshops for women workers and LBT activists in South east Asia.  One of the most important lessons is how important it is to anchor / embed the discussions around the actual situations and issues faced by these groups -  the creation of a "safe space" for sharing of personal as well as organisational issues within a common context is very powerful, in creating the sense of solidarity and "i am not alone"... . that is basic to fostering the hope that things can change, even though the odds may be quite heavy..

Actually there is a third point that is important - the work to raise awareness, build conviction and resolve, and also to impart "how-to"  knowledge of self-care and security, is a longterm one.... it is a process, not to be counted in x numbers of workshops and trainings and consultation sessions, but to be observed in the change of perception and the self-regulated efforts of  individuals and organisations  wh begin to live and work and grow in a "sustainable" manner. 

be well, friends....             

creating conditions for personal conviction

Hi all! I am very excited to be participating in this dialogue, and I look forward to many enriching exchanges!

I want to reflect on Lin's comment:

linchew wrote:

Because no one can "sustain the well-being  - or security - of another" -  one's personal conviction and attention is the only guarantee that it will work.  

It is true that one cannot "sustain the well-being of another", and so we talk about self-care, and importantly collective self-care. My question is: how do we create the conditions that foster personal conviction that self-care is important? We talk about the political aspect of self-care, that it is necessary to sustain activists but also to sustain movements. How do we hold the tension between building personal conviction that each of us is "worth it" at a personal level, and that our movements "need" us to be well and present?

dealing with resistance

I join  those questions and wonder why as activists we resist  self care....  on the one hand we are aware of our burnout with its tireness and  difficulties to contain the realities we deal with and on the other hand we do not join initiatives for wellbeing.

lately i conducted two capacitar workshops for activists in  which the activists themselves were a small minority... I really wondered because as Lin says there is a start of an awareness.

at the same time  i am organizing now, with a friend,  a capacitar training course for feminist activists there are some enthusiastic responses but most of the activists did not respond to our flyer. So, we are having  meetings with the organizations themselves with the hope to create a group of 10-14  feminist activistsf . We have to  find our way to those who are open and ready to bring change to their organizations....

In the anti occupation movement there is an accumulated despair and cynicism as defense that prevenst the openess of our hearts... Nevertheless, I am convinced that we need to continue to work for the wellbeing, balance and sustainability of our movements.

We have to find multiple ways to deal with the  resistance we find . It is also important to metnion that many activists are open to go for a retreat, to take time off and be sustained... it is the integration of well being into everyday life that is difficult...

sending you love... was good to hear the voices of sisters from the wellness center in awid and all of you... looking forward to continue this dialouge....


'be the change you want to see' -resistance

Good evening fellow self-care activists!

I am delighted to be participate in this exciting dialogue on self-care and security for human rights defenders. I would like to pick up on Yvonne's remark below regarding challenging resistance to integrating self-care into our work with defenders.

DeYvonne wrote:

We have to find multiple ways to deal with the  resistance we find . It is also important to metnion that many activists are open to go for a retreat, to take time off and be sustained... it is the integration of well being into everyday life that is difficult...

Firstly, I believe that we should look at ourselves and to what level we are integrating self-care into our own lives, are we also open to a 'holiday' (read retreat) and then no sooner are we back at work, we are trying to keep too many plates spinning? If we are trying to get defenders to change their practice, to adopt healthier more sustainable ways to balance both private and professional life, then we should start by setting a good example ourselves, by literally 'being the change we want to see'.  We need to model good self-care practice.

Secondly, there are 'softer' ways to integrate self-care into existing work either in projects or organisationally. We should be aware of the language and techniques we use for specific groups and cultures that could simply turn people off i.e. for certain contexts framing self-care as 'work/life balance' may be more effective, equally framing the conversations as 'sustaining activism' (Jane Barry) has been particularly useful for my work with male defenders.  Techniques involving touch i.e. Capacitar 'holds' or massage can be too much too soon for some people and have the effect of making defenders feel uncomfortable.  Creating a safe environment and opening up the group to an initial discussion on what is selfcare and why is it important for them  as well as knowing your audience and gradually testing out techniques first, is crucial.

Thirdly, I have somewhat sneakily incorporated self-care into workshops by introducing   debriefing sessions at the end of each day which involve summaries of the day and relaxation techniques.  Sometimes I call these mini sessions of half an hour 'relaxation' or 'self-care' and initially I did optional sessions  on 'stress-management' , now further developed to 'self-care' days which also incorporate a fun element such as a picnic.  Simple things such as changing traditional coffee breaks to 'health breaks' where we now serve herbal teas, dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit instead of high sugar snacks are helpful to sow the seed that self-care also means paying attention to what we put in our mouths.  We have also shortened training sessions to end earlier at 4pm in order to allow enough time for recuperation, rest and relaxation.

Leading by example

Lizzy Openshaw wrote:

we should start by setting a good example ourselves, by literally 'being the change we want to see'.  We need to model good self-care practice.

Thanks Lizzy for that! Sometimes we forget about challenging ourselves before challenging others. In other words "leading by example". We tend to forget the impact that role models play among young feminists and future women human rights defenders. By setting high standards of life-work balance, we will foster the development of a culture of self-care and wellness both in individual lifestyles and the organizational culture, that will lead to a real, sustainable and transformative change. 

What is a safe space/environment?

These are great examples of how to incorporate well-being discussions and practice into workshops!  I love it.  Thanks for sharing!

I wanted to ask you all about the idea of "safe spaces".  Lizzy mentions the importance of:

Lizzy Openshaw wrote:

Creating a safe environment and opening up the group to an initial discussion on what is selfcare and why is it important for them  as well as knowing your audience and gradually testing out techniques first, is crucial.

What do we mean by "safe environment" and "safe spaces"?  This concept has come up a few times in the dialogue and it is clearly an important element to sustaining the well-being and security of activists.  How do we articulate what this space looks like?  What needs to be in place for the space to be safe?  Examples would be great!

What is a safe space/environment?

I would like to comment on the need to create safe spaces. Through Urgent Action Fund's Rapid Response Grantmaking program, one of our grantmaking categories is 'protection and security of threatened women's rights activists.' Here we have seen myriad security strategies defined by activists themselves. Some activists have requested funds for 'safe spaces' because of threats, this has often come up with LGBTQI defenders. Often times safe spaces are a place activists can come together and share strategies and get a break from the intensity/danger inherent in their work. At times these operate more like safe houses. For example, there could be a women's rights or LGBTQI organization who has an office, but also needs a place to go when a particular campaign they are organizing or the political situation in their country is such that their office is a target. In these cases, activists often need places to go that offer physical security as well as a mental break. UAF is a short term funder. It would be great to think of resources and channels for activists to have ongoing access to safe spaces within their regions during particularly difficult times. We have also learned that these kind of safe spaces help support movement building by giving activists time for reflection. 

safety in open dialogue and in physical space

This is the first I'm writing to the dialogue. I'm so pleased to join you all here. I am going to share examples from my involvement with Occupy Wall Street in NYC and from my work in training activists and journalists in mobile phone security internationally in my answers. I've had many more opportunities with OWS to combine self-care and security than internationally.

Regarding creating safe spaces and environments, this came up very publicly in October with the encampment in Manhattan. After some incidences of physical and sexual assault in the park, a group of occupiers came together to support those who had reported assault and wrote this public statement.

The processes the encampment undertook in addressing creating safe space in the park included both creating space for discussion of safety – the need for safety, assault, violence – and creating physical space – communal tents where female identified occupiers stood watch and could sleep.

The way that occupiers supported those assaulted was very organic. It was definitely influenced by various people's experiences in rape and crisis support, healthcare, as legal professionals, but was surprisingly less informed by these professional experiences and more by people's hopes for how communities could support one another. In fact, the support and following dialogues were rarely part of any of the support groups' professional work, but instead were examples of community dialogues that were noticeably absent elsewhere. The message in this document and from the community was that they behaved how they hoped other people would behave in this situation – supporting the individuals' decisions and expressed needs.

Following this event, there were a number of community dialogues around consent, violence, sexual assault, and how to literally create safe spaces in the encampment. In this instance, where community dialogues were possible, creating both the space for conversation and a space created for safety and maintained by members of the community, were our solutions to creating safer space.

The dialogues and physical spaces alone do not prevent individuals from committing acts of violence against one another, but were expressions of communal commitments to nonviolence and to reducing harm within the community.

Reclaiming self-help

Hi everyvody,

In line with what others have mentioned, I would like to share that looking at self-care from a different perspective is a positive alternative to transformation,individually and collectively. Feminism gives us elements to rethink self-care as a tool to combat the stereotype of women as “careers of the world”, sacrificing themselves for others, and instead helps us to reclaim our own care as a powerful instrument for our and others wellness and sustainability.

How have you reframed the idea of self-care?

Thanks for sharing this, Katherine!  Reframing the idea of self-care to incorporate elements of feminism connects to Lizzy's comment above about re-framing self-care depending on your audience:

Lizzy Openshaw wrote:

We should be aware of the language and techniques we use for specific groups and cultures that could simply turn people off i.e. for certain contexts framing self-care as 'work/life balance' may be more effective, equally framing the conversations as 'sustaining activism' (Jane Barry) has been particularly useful for my work with male defenders.

It would be great to hear of other examples of how you all have been able to reframe the idea of self-care to make it more approachable, less intimidating and more open for defenders to take and own!

reframing self-care

Hi Kristin and all

I too often use 'sustaining activism' - a lot of people see self-care as self-indulgence, so 'sustaining activism' puts the emphasis on keeping on not burning out, being able to continue in the work. 'Sustaining the movement' is also good as it emphasises it as a collective project - and can make the opponents of the movement more visible in their concerted efforts to undermine the movement by making the conditions so difficult for individuals (including targeting leaders, surveillance, harrassment etc).

A lot of the folks I work with struggle to care for themselves - and just saying 'you should care for yourself' often doesn't shift that! Demonstrating caring can make a difference though - ie 'you may not think you're worth caring for, but I do, and will keep doing so until you catch on'. In some ways I've found it more effective to go around this barrier by using the incentive of outcomes in the world. In many cases wanting to change the world propels ppl to overwork, but if self-care is a path to better social change outcomes, that can motivate a change in behaviour. ie 'If you do this thing you'll be a more effective activist and the campaign will go better. As an added bonus you'll be happier and healthier!'

Audre Lorde captured this beautifully when she said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 


Creating opportunites for physical gatherings to connect

I am eager to learn more about the Wellness Area that many of you participated in at the AWID forum this year!  From the website:

The Wellness Area is a comfortable and safe environment to enjoy a moment of tranquility during the Forum. It aims to help Forum participants to recuperate, reinvigorate and calm their minds.

I think it's a great example of how we all could be more creative in how we utilize opportunities for bringing defenders together in-person to talk about wellness and security.  It is an important tactic to put out there so others that are organizing in-person conferences can think of ways they want to integrate discussions on wellness - AND put "wellness" into practice (via yoga, massage, conversation, etc) right there at the conference!  I love this idea, and am eager to learn more about the goals of this tactic, how it was organized and carried out, and what the impact/outcome was.  Thanks!

Wellness Centers


I am also happy to be here, discussing these issues with all of you! I would like to comment on the space that AWID created at the last platform. As I read the earlier threads it is clear that there is a disconnect between the opportunity and/or willingness of activists to take part in trainings on well being and security and ways to integrate these concepts into our daily work. I think the more we can create safe spaces for reflection and wellness within our movements the more it can become integrated into the way we do our work on a day to day basis. We have to start somewhere! I would like to think about other ways of integrating well being into our work or ways others are already doing it?

Corporate Wellness

Your comments on the need for activists to practice self-care are right on. In my compassion fatigue work, I have found the most difficult barrier to break through is at the management level of organizations. Often I am asked to present a workshop by leadership, but management/leadership send  staff members and do not attend themselves. If we are going to change attitudes concerning self-care in the workplace, we need to get leadership onboard. When the majority of staff is suffering the ill-effects of compassion fatigue (isolation, emotional outbursts, persistent ailments, lack of personal boundaries, etc.), the organization itself becomes compassion fatigued. Compassion fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress syndrome that can devastate the life of a caregiver. The bottom line of an organization is affected when this occurs, of course. There will be problems with absenteeism, higher level of Worker's Comp claims, inability of teams to work well together, management vs staff, rampant rumors, among other unproductive behaviors and outcomes - all leading to loss of revenue, collaboration and productivity. One way an organization can help create a healthy workplace is to design a corporate wellness program. It could include staff trainings, Brown Bag luncheon speakers, discounted gym memberships, employee incentive programs, employee recognition programs, among other offerings. There must be management buy-in for any of these ideas to work and promote worker wellness and self-care.

wellness and training within larger organziations

Hello everyone.  Very glad to be here and to read your reflections, comments and advice.

Patricia, thank you for your remarks on campassion fatigue.  I strongly believe that a supportive corporate culture trickles down to the program and team level in larger organizations.  That said, the "top-down" support can go only so far.  Most important is the support stemming from and reaching out across the immediate team of a particular initiative or program.  (My experience comes from a relatively small program -- the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund -- within a very large international organization -- The Institute of International Education.)

Does your organization offer trainings on well-being and self-care for organizations? 

Corporate Wellness

Good to chat with you. Yes, you are correct in your statement that leadership can only do so much. But staff must have the support and resources from leadership in order to move forward and create new and sustainable ways for compassion satisfaction, which is the pleasure we derive from doing our work - and possibly the greatest deterrent against high levels of compassion fatigue in the workplace. Most likely, our relationships and collaborative behaviors with our peers/colleagues will bear the most fruit. Building "self-care" teams can energize and revitalize others, as well. As with anything worthwhile, designing corporate wellness programs that fit each organization specifically takes time, resources, effort and commitment from everyone involved. The program must embrace and incorporate the organization's mission, values and goals. Yes, I do provide trainings. Please see for more information. 

Share examples of organizations' wellness programs

Patricia wrote:

One way an organization can help create a healthy workplace is to design a corporate wellness program. It could include staff trainings, Brown Bag luncheon speakers, discounted gym memberships, employee incentive programs, employee recognition programs, among other offerings. There must be management buy-in for any of these ideas to work and promote worker wellness and self-care.

Thanks for sharing these practical examples of how organizations can create healthy workplaces!  I would love to see more examples of how organizations are doing this.  Are there wellness programs that have worked really well?  Any that you would recommend?  What kinds of employee incentive & recognition programs have you seen?  Are there examples from others in this dialogue of successul wellness programs?

Here are some other ideas/examples for how organizations can incorporate well-being into the work culture (taken from our summary of the other dialogues on this topic):

Organizations can build trust and confidence within the organization, focus on prevention, organize group meetings, create a vision for people within the organization, create a ripple effect (such as Capacitar collaborating with Timor Aid to train a group of National Trainers who in turn trained teachers, policemen/women, youth, social workers and others), hold the organization accountable for their staff’s self-care, prevent burn-out by educating on and clarifying politics, developing clear campaign strategies, allowing people to express deep feelings, and celebrating successes.

Creating feminist community for wellbeing

To train activists in Capacitar practices for them to become focal points in their organizations is exactly what Itaf Awad and myself are planning. We started to recruit Jewish and Palestinian women. (of 48, within the 67 borders)...

But i also want to share with you an initative that started as an outcome (to use donors; words) of a meeting on wellbeing with few young activists against the occupation in the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Now every Sunday evening a group of women activists from the Coalition and outside it meet for dinner, to discuss issues of their concern, to plan  what do they want to do together, to pay attention to their own needs also for being able to continue their work and activism. Those young activists understand that they need a community...

they are  tired from the miltaristic discourse on Fridays after coming back from their weekly protest against the wall with Palestinians... they go through trauma and witness injury and sometimes death..there is no room to share they fear... they share how far were they from the bullets. . 

Good for those young feminist activists who knew to create for themselves a safe space of their own.  Older women are  invited to join of course.

Corporate wellness

I live in Silicon Valley where the high technology corporations are located. Businesses such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and eBay do an unbelievable job of creating an environment where their workers can apply healthy work/life balance very easily. Not only do they allow their employees to work from home, job share, work flex hours and provide transportation services to and from work, they also provide healthy food in their cafeteria and also run restaurants where their employees can order meals at a reduced price. They also supply such luxuries as dry cleaning service pickup onsite and bicyles to use around the "campus." These are rare offerings and can be supplied due to the extraordinary amount of funding these businesses have. But other organizations can take these ideas and transform them to work for their own employees. Offering healthy food is one easy way that companies can promote wellness. Allowing flex hours and even half days on Friday would be a morale booster. Not all jobs are conducive to working from home, but many are. This not only allows the worker some flexiblity, it also saves on gas and spares the air. Another way an organization can help build a healthy workforce is by transparent communication. CEO forums are one way to present information on a regular basis. This can be scheduled once a month with the president or CEO talking to the employees to let them know what is happening with the "big picture." And somehow the night or swing shift workers must be included. This can be accomplished via video or in person, if management is willing to be onsite during these shifts. I work for a health system where one CEO goes in at midnight to talk directly to the staff. These actions and behaviors are noticed and respected by workers. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. (Not sure who said that.)

Building organizational culture

Thanks, keelytongate, for encouraging us to think about the critical transition from participating in one-off events (trainings) to integrating well-being into our daily work. I was particularly struck by the idea of creating more stable/permanent "safe spaces" within our movements.

While earlier comments have focused on physical safe spaces, particularly at AWID, set aside for wellness activities, it seems to me that if we want to integrate practices promoting activists' well-being and security, then we should look at making regular elements of the work environment into safe spaces. I don't mean physical spaces necessarily, but practices and processes that help human rights defenders to voice their observations and needs, and to feel comfortable making personal choices that promote their own well-being. In my own experience, efforts to create an organizational culture that is more democratic, that encourages dialogue among peers, tend to create space for well-being and security to be discussed.

I know that open dialogues can feel threatening to management, and others here have already highlighted the need for leaders to buy-in.  I have found it useful to refer to the "fair process" decision-making approach as a way to open up space for dialogue. (If you're not familiar, the Harvard Business Review has an article from 2003 explaining this approach from a corporate perspective.)

Essentially, to paraphrase the HBR article, "fair process" builds trust and cooperation by ensuring that staff feel that a decision affecting them has been made fairly. This approach invites input, encourages staff to challenge one another's ideas, and thereby builds collective wisdom. In the end it clarifies the process behind a manager's final decision. If everyone feels like they have taken part - in a meaningful and fair way - in the discussion, they are more likely to actively support the outcome even if it is not completely in their interest. This process still allows managers to make a final decision, but the consultative process with staff is critical to building an open and supportive organizational culture.

I have found, with LGBTI human rights defenders in Burundi, that this approach is very effective at building trust - even in a social environment that is typically very hierarchical. In our regular weekly meetings, we use fair process, we have a dedicated part of the agenda for discussing security concerns, and a moment at the end for anyone at the table to raise any other issues they'd like to discuss. With time, we have been able to go from discussing technical issues to delving into deeper, more "soulful" discussions of what kinds of support we need, what our limits are, and what practices we would like to cultivate together. Some of the initiatives coming from these discussions have included weekly yoga sessions, community-based art projects to be displayed in the workplace, changes in our security policies, boundaries for activities on evenings and weekends, etc.

If we can build these transparent and participatory processes, in our regular gatherings at work, we may be more likely to recognize that we have shared needs regarding well-being and security. This can lead to collective reflection on the work environment as well as institutional and personal changes that promote activists' well-being and security.

security plans and policies

rebeccasheff wrote:

 we should look at making regular elements of the work environment into safe spaces. I don't mean physical spaces necessarily, but practices and processes that help human rights defenders to voice their observations and needs, and to feel comfortable making personal choices that promote their own well-being.

in our conversations about wellness and security, we have seen some tangible links regarding organizational policies and practices: instituting working hours for the organization (for example, agreeing on a closing time for the office), to encourage people to not work long days (wellness) and to make sure they're not alone in the office late in the evening (security). while it is not always easy to implement, setting that policy can itself be a message that the organization is prioritizing wellness and security of its members.

I recently participated in a risk assessment workshop with an organization we work closely with, and one of the issues that came out quite strongly was that the members did not know about each other's experiences, fears, and perceptions of risk - both in relation to their activities in human rights defense and in relation to their personal security as women in their communities. As part of the security plan that we drafted, there is now an action point to have regular (monthly or every 3-4 months) meetings to review incidents and experiences that can represent risks to the integrity of the organization, including personal security and wellness issues that can affect the whole. In addition to creating a space for collective reflection, the regularity of these spaces allow for sharing of whatever comes up, regardless of how (in)significant it may seem at the time. This is a good alternative to a defender feeling like she needs to speak up when something "serious" has happened.

Security and wellness

Yes! The work environment itself must be safe. If we don't feel safe, validated and valued, we will not give our organization the time, energy, and creativity it deserves. Forming a wellness committee onsite could be the best way to assess the "risks" mentioned in the posting above. A survey is always quick and easy, especially with Survey Monkey ( I work in healthcare and every year the Risk Management leaders create a Corporate Compliance training online. The first part contains tutorials, and the last part presents 10 questions pertaining to the information presented. After completing the questionnaire, every employee must print it out, sign it and return to the Risk Management/Corporate Compliance department for scoring. A few days later, your score and congratulations on completing the survey are sent via email. Many issues are contained in this survey: security, legal, ethics, mission and values are included. If anyone has more questions, he or she can contact the department for answers. All 7,000 employees in the system take this survey/test. We also have a Values Line that any staff member can call - anonymously - to report any issues that prove bothersome or go against our corporate mission and values. Our Human Resources vice president follows up on any comments or complaints that are filed. Since it is anonymous, workers feel very safe using the 800 number to voice their concerns.

wellness area at AWID Forum

The AWID Forum takes place every 3-4 years and brings together feminist and women activists from all over the world. This last AWID Forum took place in Istanbul in April, and we had 2.300 participants.  At prior Forums, we offered massages for participants and we also had a few break-out sessions conducted by Jane Barry about security and wellness. But for Istanbul, we took up the challenge to organize an integrated wellness area that would bridge conversations about wellness with "practice" sessions and one-on-one care.

Our assessment is that one of the reasons for the success of the wellness area is that we were able to build an amazing team of partners to help frame and organize the session. We invited a small group to help us start the framing: Jane Barry, and Lin Chew, and Ana María Hernandez from Mexico. They in turn brought others and it was a truly collaborative process. By the time we were in Istanbul and launching the area, we had more than 25 volunteer practioners leading all sorts of activities: circus acrobatics, tai-chi, one-on-one life coaching, group sessions to discuss experiences in self-care...

We jointly developed a concept note regarding the goals of the area, which sought to promote self-care through a feminist analysis and to surface personal experiences in wellness and security among Forum participants. We were clear that we wanted to combine the need for participants to take care of themselves while we were at the Forum with our mission to promote wellness and self-care in the everyday lives of Women Human Rights Defenders.

For this reason, we intentionally organized activities during the formal program sessions and not during breaks. Of course, that created challenges of participants coming during a 15-minute break hoping for a quick massage and us having to push back that our invitation was for them to take a more significant amount of time and not try to "squeeze" it in. Our message: this is valid work, and can be done during the "regular" schedule.

We are so grateful for all the practitioners who stepped up to contribute their talents and expertise. And it's so great that many of them are here with us on this dialogue. So, I will leave it here and invite others to share their reflections about the wellness area.

Talk with y'all more tomorrow! Analía

Physical gatherings to connect at OWS and Urban Sangha Project

From the start, this was something that activists at Occupy Wall Street were doing. In the park, there was a meditation space where people were continually meditating. At times, there were teachers, or leaders, and at times, people were meditating independently.

As it's not always possible to create a space for meditation and self led and even guided meditation are very new and difficult to approach for many people, we made efforts to invite some of the simpler meditation practices into our shared events. At a number of General Assemblies (GAs), the nightly public gathering in which we discussed issues pertinent to the encampment and campaigns or actions, we began with meditation led by our medication working group. The meditation working group met daily to meditate together and offered to be present and lead meditation with any other groups.

And I found that, even if that was difficult for people to approach or practice, that people were receptive to some of the simpler practices of meditation – that we were able to start meetings with closing our eyes, breathing together, inviting breath and space.

These are practices I have enjoyed on my own or with meditation groups entirely separate from my work (and from many other parts of my life), and I found it extremely fulfilling to be able to practice these things with the same people I was organizing and campaigning.

The Urban Sangha Project emerged last year in NYC. Led by Booker and Margarita, The Urban Sangha Project hosts free yoga and meditation for activists. Their message, “Whether you're a Teacher, Activist, Occupier, Therapist, or Environmentalist, you're out there making this world a better place than you found it. We want to keep you sustained so you can continue to do your very important work. And don't forget, we're still offering our weekly 'Sustainable Activism: Yoga for Occupiers' classes at the Interdependence Project every Thursday from noon-1:30pm and our new 'Gratitude' classes for New York City school teachers are in full effect and are offered by request at this point. Weekly classes for teachers coming in the Fall!”

By hosting this “Sustainable Activism” consistently each week, the Urban Sangha Project created a space for people to go to consider their activism and their well-being simultaneously. I'd love to see and support more efforts like this in other activists circles and perhaps we could ask the Urban Sangha Project for some guidance!

personal vs. colective

In my experience working on those issues with different movements (feminist, LGBTQ, human rights, etc) in Latin-America, I found that there is too hard to gain sustaining well-being and security at the personal level if there is not a real commitment at the collective or institutional level in our groups, collectives, organizations and yes, our movements.

Currently, there is an increasing interest in some groups and organizations, on integrating well-being and security in their  institutional policies (to have time to rest, paid vacations, health insurance), etc. Nevertheless there is less attention to the non institutional policies, I meant, hided but institutionalized practices and mechanisms that are questioning and restraining the individual and collective interest in well-being improvement.

for myself vs. for the movement

Hi, I wanted to pick up on some things that Marina raised at the beginning of the dialogue, which I think have been echoed in many comments throughout the threads:

  • There needs to be a balance between the personal commitment to take care of ourselves and the institutional responsibility towards all members of the organization to facilitate self-care and caring for each other. We need both.
  • A big barrier to self-care is the "culture of activism" that we must give all to the movement, as Marina said, the fear that we will be judged as not being committed enough to the cause. A challenge for ourselves as activists and as practitioners who work with activists is how to change this culture, how to change the pace of the work, how to change the weight of the demands.
  • And with that, the tension of why self-care is important: if we do this for ourselves, if I do this for myself, then I am judged not committed enough (I judge myself not committed enough). But if I do this for the movement, because the movement "needs" me to be healthy, the movement needs me to be here for the long-haul, the suddenly it is OK that I pace myself, that I take time out from the race to immediately respond to every demand. What does that mean for the motivation of why it is a legitimate activity to be mindful of myself.
  • So, "collective self-care" as a shared responsibility, that does not make us weaker in our political commitment, but that rescues our collective well-being as one of the demands that we fight for when we fight for justice and a better world. Not so much a tool to better serve the movement, but because we are a part of that movement and that is what we seek for all of us.
Some challenges...

In different spaces and trainings I found that there are different aspects on tension experienced by activist that are considering to improve their self-care and to promote it in their groups, organizations or movements:

  • The fear of being judged as a bad activist, lack of commitment with the cause.
  • To lose credibility, or to be considered less political, “light” or selfish.
  • To be stereotyped because their self-care practices: as the “yoga” person, the “caring just your - self” person, etc.
  • Depending of the context and type of organizations or movements; the interest on self-care and well being can be  veiled disqualified relating this interest to an spiritual o religious personal believes, the gender of the person, it sexual orientation, it social class or age, among others.

Those, are aspects to be taken seriously in order to deal with, and then achieve a real and sustainable well being at personal and colective level.

Caregivers and Self-Care

Hi Marina,

You are correct in your statements concerning the roadblocks to self-care. In my workshops, participants often mention all of the words you mention: guilt, selfishness, etc. The truth and bottom line is this: We have nothing to give others if we are depleted. A healthy caregiving pattern consists of fill up, empty out, fill up, empty out. The "filling up" is about self-care. What do we do for ourselves to sustain our motivation, resiliency and dedication to the caregiving work we choose to do? The "empty out" is what happens when we are 100% present to another human being who is in pain or suffering. By hearing their harrowing stories, we are opening ourselves up to experiencing compassion fatigue, a secondary traumatic stress syndrome. We are actually being traumatized by the stories we hear. These experiences can actually deplete us - body,mind and spirit. As caregivers, we are empathetic. We have the ability to leave our hearts open upon hearing of another's pain or distress. We are also compassionate, which  is the urge to do something to help alleviate the pain and suffering. If we don't practice authentic,sustainable self-care practices to "fill up," we will consistently empty out, empty out, empty out - and very soon we will have nothing left to give.

Challenges of getting wellness and self-care funded

One of the other big challenges is that funders do not or cannot fund such programs - when donors fund project-specific initiatives, then it is very difficult for organizations to then fit in wellness and self-care into the on-going work.  At the Global Fund for Women, we give our funds in general support, which means that organizations can use the funds according to their own priorities.  It is very important for funders to give their support in ways that are flexible and that allow organizations to fund things like wellness programs.  Some of our grantees build in sabbaticals or massage therapy, etc., for their staff.  This is only possible if the funding they receive is flexible enough to allow for this.  Finding funding to provide mental health services is also difficult, but now there are more resources available.

How are organizations integrating well-being and security on an

How are organisations integrating well-being and security on an institutional level?

 I'd like to speak of well-being only (it has an impact on security of which a lot was said in previous dialogues). I believe that unless it is an institutional issue just like any other institutional issue which is treated regularly/ planned to be 'tackled' at set times, probably well-being is intregrated informally...And if it is perceived as optional or as elements that can contribute to the perception by/of the defender being weak or concentrating on things that are not priorities etc (risk of guilt trip)...then ,what might happen is for well being to be tackled between people who have a closer relationship in the organisation out affinity/friendship/like to like relationship...

I'd say that it could be an entry point if used to achieve organisational integration. It is complex and yet it could take just few  aware and willing people to start the 'process' towards integrating it...few people who 'decide' to break the silence, to speak and share common experiences...contribute to the cohesion of the group/institution...I am not in an organisation yet I think that the process can start also with a brainstorming on feelings, perceptions...words...we are talking about defenders, active defenders...i don't think we are talking about people with trauma with the consequence of being unable to phrase or draw their feelings...I believe that yoga, massage can help get to the verbal sharing...

I guess what can help is also seeing 'why' would we share and integrate well-being  beyond the immediate objective of one's well-being ...the verbal sharing can help analysing the context and reasons, and who is who, who is resonsible of what...critical questioning. Getting to all that could help take away the burden of the feeling of being exposed/perceived as 'weak', 'not a priority' etc. Again, I don't know of organisations that have actually integrated well-being on a regular and planned fashion, for their own members.

It can contribute to security. I know of organisations succombing to the inability of dealing with internal stress (well-being need), not at all because of lack of experience and knowledge. It's easier to 'help' others'. I know of organisations/individuals who do it for others and who would take the initiative to resort to other organisations for themselves. Again, like to like approach. That is in itself a way for organisations to integrate well-being at an institutional level. Who says that instutional level means internal? it could  be 'external'. Thus, 'unloading' the organisation from the difficult task of having to deal with emotions, feelings, thoughts induced also by its work...risk of feeling of 'responsiblity if not of guilt'....It's 'easier' to ring for external help. It doesn't need to stay as such. It can be a way to achieve 'organisational 'internal' way if organisational 'external' way has become obsolete. ...

Self-Care and Compassion Fatigue

Hello to all. I'm very pleased to take part in this important and essential dialogue. As the founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, I write, speak and present workshops to caregivers in all professions from chaplains to funeral directors to social workers to suicide prevention workers to animal welfare workers. As I travel nation-wide (United States), I continually find caregivers fall into certain patterns that keep us from practicing authentic, sustainable self-care daily. First of all, it is common for caregivers to be other-directed, which means we place the needs of others before our own needs. These patterns of other-directedness usually begin at an early age and are carried into adulthood. Other-directednes, among other causes, can eventually lead to Compassion Fatigue (CF), which is a secondary traumatic stress syndrome. The symptoms of CF include isolation, emotional outbursts, impulse to rescue those in need, sadness and apathy, lack of self-care practices, recurring nightmares and flashbacks, and persistent physical ailments. Healthy caregiving is about being present to another human being without taking on his/her pain and suffering as our own. Unhealthy, or chronic caregiving, where we take on the pain and suffering as our own leads to stress, burnout, and ultimately compassion fatigue. It is absolutely imperative that defenders become aware of the need for self-care in order to be resilient and continue to do the work we choose to do.

What does healthy caregiving look like in practice?

Patricia wrote:

Healthy caregiving is about being present to another human being without taking on his/her pain and suffering as our own.

Thanks, Patricia!  What kinds of tactics do you see healthy caregivers using to ensure their well-being is sustainable?  What kinds of approaches, techniques, activities do they use?  We'd love to learn more about what healthy caregiving looks like - in practice!  Please share your examples, stories, experiences and ideas!

Helping to keep pressure from becoming stress

Dear all,

This is my first contribution to a New Tactics discussion thread.  I have worked in the field of equality and diversity in a large UK university for the past 12 years, and for the past two years have been researching into human rights activism, and specifically what motivates and sustains activists, at the School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London.   So this discussion is already so helpful, reinforcing the need for empathy between activists and those they support, while also maintaining sufficient emotional separation to ensure we (if I may) are able to deal professionally and effectively with difficult situations. 

In my work I have come across an organisation called Mindful Employer, which takes a multi-dimensional approach to providing well-being  guidance for employers and for individuals.  One of the most helpful ones I have found is their self-help guide called Feeling Stressed:  Keeping Well, a non-prescriptive workbook which acknowledges that each person is unique; one person’s  pressure may be another person’s stress.  The guide is available at this link:

Best wishes,


Please share examples of activists sustaining wellbeing/security

Welcome to the dialogue, Faith!  We're glad you're here.  Thanks for sharing this resource!

I am curious to know if, through your research, you have come across any innovative, creative ways that human rights activists are sustaining their well-being and security.  If you have any examples and stories - please share them here!

Self-care and Sustainability

In my compassion fatigue work, I use the term "authentic, sustainable self-care." As simple as it may sound, determing our own authentic, sustainable self-care practices can be daunting. Since many of us involved in the helping professions are "other-directed," we care for the needs of others before we care for our own needs, we must now reverse our lifelong patterns and think of ourselves first. If we don't fill ourselves up and continue to deplete our resources - time, energy, compassion, empathy, funds - we will have nothing to give. And what we do have to give will most likely come from a place of depletion, which translates to unhealthy, or chronic, caregiving. Healthy caregiving in its ultimate form fills us up. Does providing care to others deplete us? Make us resentful or angry? Does the work tire and wear us out? Providing quality, compassionate care to another should illicit feelings of tenderness and warmth and satisfaction, even pleasure.

This process of inner shifting from other-directed to self-directed that occurs takes time and patience. Often those closest to us will fight the hardest against the changes we are attempting to make. Since they are usually the recipients of our caregiving, fear sets in. Despite the setbacks and difficulties we might face in making this shift to self-directedness, the effort is worth all of the pain and suffering we go through to come out the other side. Once we learn to monitor our resources, our quality of caregiving rises dramatically. We teach others how to treat us. If we honor and respect ourselves, others will honor and respect us as well. If we mistreat ourselves by not applying strong personal boundaries, others will run rampant using up our resources.

The self-care we apply in our lives must be authentic to each one of us. If we don't know what fills us up, we must take the time to find out. Is it meditating? Walking in nature? Swimming? Cooking? Visiting with a trusted friend? And it must be sustainable. What are the activities that reach into our souls and fill us up with peace and genuine happiness? If we don't know, we can travel back to our childhood and think about what we loved to do. What were our favorite books? Movies? Songs? What did we always dream about doing - or being? There are many secrets buried in our memories. If nothing comes to mind, ask family members what they remember. Their answers are often surprising.


Hi again, Patricia.  This comment answers my previous question about trainings for organizations.  I look forward to vistiing your website and exploring the possibility of a workshop for our Scholar Rescue Fund team.

Reflecting on the XII Latin American Feminist Gathering

Looking at self-care as part of the wellbeing and security debate could raise questions regarding the relevance of collective responses for collective struggles. However, the interrelated connections between wellness, security and self-care are also placing collective responsibility –not just individual- as a strategic mechanism to respond to the needs of women human rights defenders.

At the XII Latin American Feminist Gathering (12 Encuentro Feminista Latinoamericano) in November 2011, self-care was one of the thematic pillars of discussion. Using the framework of The Care of Ourselves is Political, the debate at this particular working group established three different dimensions of analysis: personal, social and political. Thus, focusing on different levels of collective responsibility of wellness, security and self-care over individual responsibility, and with this, sharing how collectively strategies contribute to the support of ourselves and our work.  

These three dimensions interlink with a diversity of networks such as: oneself, family, friends, organisations and institutions. This distinction facilitated the process of recognising different levels of collective and individual weakness and strengths when facing complex situations, particularly those of risk and danger. Therefore, the need to assume a collective approach when dealing with emerging and changing dangerous contexts. Strategies of security, protection, survival, sustainability and resilience from a feminist perspective should then incorporate collective as well as individual actions into our daily work.

This is so interesting,

This is so interesting, Katherine, thank you .... is it possibe to share the reports of those discussions? it will be so helpful for us, in designing our steps forward.  Are they in English also? 

Your remarks stress the importance of paying great attention to the different contexts in which we nidividually and in our various collectives and organised working situations find ourselves... the delicate sensitivity  that we need to cultivate to discern the needs - and the strengths - of individuals  and the relationships that enmesh us in our collectives - not to just keep a balance, but to acknowledge and enhance the positive mutual strengthening that is the only way that we an sustain ourselves and our world.....


On its way...

Hi Lin,

As far as I know, there will be a document like a conference report with the main discussions of all working groups. It will be in Spanish but I can check if the parts of self-care can be translated into English for dissemination :-)

framing the topics?

Dear all, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this dialogue. I agree with most of the reflections and comments shared until now, but at the same time I feel that perhaps not everything fits together... some questions arise for me, and I would like to play the role of the devil´s advocate by sharing them here, hoping to support the dialogue and the exchange...
For example, as we are talking about undefined and somehow elusive concepts here (like well being, self care, even security), are we sure we all understand the same things when we use these terms (I think someone posed this same question in the dialogue before). Are we framing the discussion in the right way? Because we may be linking as in a chain -stress - fear- psychological discomfort - reduced security, and then - (lack of) awareness of this- self care - well being -more security, etc. The question is, is this true? Furthermore, is this true for everyone, both from a cultural point of view, but also from a individual point of view? (I mean drawing lines among different cultural and different individual styles/strategies to cope with psychological discomfort). I find it difficult to make sound "diagnosis" of situations around these topics, let alone to find adequate ways to approach them. It is not so long time ago, after the dissemination of the concept of traumatic stress disorder, that scientific studies  showed that the already "popular" therapeutical approach to it after a trauma (immediate debriefing etc.) could be more harmful that beneficial for some individuals. That therapeutic approach was based in a common sense actuation, and I do not pretend to compare it with what we are discussing here, but there might be some similarities: the common sense stuff, the genuine concern for the difficult situations individuals suffer when facing certain situations and prolonged stress, etc....
I leave it here, certainly not satisfied with what I was trying to express, but I think shorter interventions are more useful than longer ones (and mine is too long now....). Looking forward to further exchanges....

De-Briefing following trauma

Hello Enrique. You bring up many interesting points and questions. I wanted to address your comments regarding de-briefing. For many years, I presented the idea of de-briefings in my workshops as a way to "decompress" and release anxiety and stress following a traumatic incident. The latest studies show - and I've learned this the last year in my own work - debriefing and re-telling the stories of pain and suffering only further traumatize the storyteller, but also the listeners. What I recommend now is to de-brief, but share your feelings, not your stories. How did the experience make you feel? How do you feel now? How did the incident affect your feelings of safety and security? The secondary traumatic stress we sometimes experience as helpers and caregivers is known as compassion fatigue. If the pain and suffering in our lives is not processed and "healed," we then take on the pain and suffering of others. Our unresolved pain latches on to the pain of another - and a set of symptoms surface -- isolation, emotional outbursts, recurring nightmares, and substance abuse, among others. I believe every person we come in contact with is unique. How that person handles stress, anxiety, fear and loss is going to depend on his or her life experiences, culture and awareness. Authentic, sustainable self-care begins and ends with awareness. We must truly understand that to be a healthy caregiver we must be completely integrated human beings - body, mind and spirit.


Patricia wrote:

The latest studies show - and I've learned this the last year in my own work - debriefing and re-telling the stories of pain and suffering only further traumatize the storyteller, but also the listeners. What I recommend now is to de-brief, but share your feelings, not your stories. How did the experience make you feel? How do you feel now? How did the incident affect your feelings of safety and security? 

Patricia -- thanks for raising this point, and it is an important aspect of our collective understanding of the different ways human beings heal and are resiient. I agree that the 're-telling the story' in the Western pyscho-therapeutic model can be ineffective and in some cases damaging. I also agree that we need to give activists/defenders the opportunity to release those stories in some form -- and that can be in focusing on the feelings, not the stories. But in our experiences running Integrated Security workshops, we do work to create safe, trusting spaces where activists/defenders can talk about their stories in the ways that are most helpful for them -- but we do this over a 3 day period and offer many other techniques and opportunities for support. So this is very different, I think, from a 'de-briefing' that would be a shorter process. 

It is really useful to have this particular and practical discussion around some of the 'how' and 'techniques' we use to integrate wellness into security work, and I am very glad to see it here, as not everyone I think is aware of the findings around the potential harm of retelling stories. So thank you!

Embracing change

Hallo Everyone,

Thank you so much for sharing, questioning, proposing, discussion and finding new paradigm(s) on security, sustainability of HRD and their/our well-being .

From my experience working with HRD,WRD and LGBT rights defenders around the world in the last 6 years is opening the space for finding common ground of what security means to us, what are the ‘safe’ spaces for us, where do we find them/do we have them, how to find security and how one can sustain itself in the contexts where the ‘outside context’ never changes….and we were analyzing how existing  personal , social  and organizational mechanisms came about,  how they sustain themselves and  exploring conditions necessary to generate transformational behaviors, paths and movements both personal and political.

As Jane mentioned, it is t is really useful to have this particular and practical discussion around some of the 'how' and 'techniques' we use to integrate wellness into security work..I see it as the Integral approach to sustainability of individuals-organizations-communities where we move from ‘traditional’ approaches of individuality,fragmentarity,rationality,dissonance,competitivness, strictness to self-consciousness, holism, vision, self-organization, adaptability, openness, flexibility, grace, empathy, resonance… opening path to changes with the important human feeling of personal compliance and self-realization/achievement.

We were seeing the necessity of connecting the following aspects:

  • Physical: how our body feels, how we develop body armor, talking about bodies and connecting it to emotions and how it is inter-related and how it affects our well-being
  • Mental: focus on what we do (and most of the HRD are living this aspect of their being-mental /cognitive level) . It is also part of collective domain-avoiding and holding the pain (our and pain of others/communities), distrust, harsh judgments, misunderstandings…etc..etc
  • Emotional: offer the space to talk deeper about “emotional shades”, space to observe and understand emotions, ability to express and recognize emotions and ability to tune and direct emotions.  It is the space for harmonization of emotions and harmonization of thoughts and emotions
  • Spiritual: harmonization of our inner and outer processes individual and therefore collective and stimulating creative empathy among HRD.

Constant development of awareness and personal development through offering spaces, sharing techniques is a basic for understanding that we are all interconnected and that essence of our beings is love as an instrument for self -realization and creative empathy as a basic relationship towards ourselves and the others.

 My best wishes to all,



Hi Jane,

Thank you for clarifying that point. It is so important to remember that we are all unique and in this very difficult job of caregiving, we all process experiences differently. Latest brain studies are now telling us that we process memories in unique ways, as well. Apparently, we don't add each memory separately. Each memory connects with other memories and new memories are created. If this is indeed true, the effect this finding has on trauma is enormous. We experience the trauma in our work, and then hearing the traumatic stories of others creates an entirely new level of trauma. Integrated Security workshops sound excellent and can have a profound effect on those who have difficulty processing or are subjected to high levels of trauma. I recently facilitated 4 grief sessions with an elderly group of Catholic sisters who suffered extreme loss within two weeks. They were able to share feelings and also spent some quality time journaling. This was a new approach for them. I was pleased when they reported success in putting their thoughts and feelings on paper. They experienced feelings of relief and also letting go. They live in community and have very evolved prayer lives, so with these varied outlets, they seem more centered and balanced now.

Using 'body mapping' for dialogue, reflection and support

More thoughts and examples on creating safe spaces for dialogue, reflection and support...

In order to address sensitive and painful issues of sex and sexuality, especially when working sex workers and women living with HIV, we do ‘body mapping’. This involves a process of mapping the entire body by each participant, starting from the hair right down to the toes. Participants then take a moment to think about what thoughts/feelings come to mind relating to each body part, also identify the things about their bodies that hurt badly, crevices of pain where they need to shine a light. They talk about excess baggage they carry in each part, and what needs to be abandoned especially if it does not add value.  They get ‘permission’ to unwrap painful areas that they put away. So where a participant has a knife wound on the arm, has  a leg broken or twisted, has been raped, car accident scars any experiences that they relate strongly to should be explored.

At the same time, they  appreciate each part of the body, thank it for enabling them achieve what they have achieved. They apologise to those parts that they have neglected.

Participants can reflect individually and share what they are comfortable to share with the group.  A follow up discussion on the body follows and each participant is invited to comment on their feelings about the process, what discoveries they made, how such an analysis of their bodies may or may not have altered how they view themselves.

Participants can also discuss how their bodies and experiences relate to how they self identify or how they ‘walk’ and ‘see’. Usually there is a counselor on stand by to help ‘bad’  and ‘fragmented’ cases or those who request for a counsellor

~Manifesto: Feminist Ethics

~Manifesto: Feminist Ethics of Care for Activists ~

We are a group of feminist activists from Belgrade, Jerusalem, Algiers and Manila who share a common vision of creating a feminist ethic of organizing that is based on care – a feminist ethics of care. We are committed to developing organizational cultures that encourage collective feminist responsibility for the emotional wellbeing and health of women activists. At the same time, we are interested in learning about current diverse practices of women that are based on empowerment, wellbeing and transformation.

Women taking gentle care of themselves is not encoded in the patriarchal role for women. It is a feminist value, though not easy to follow. We seek to work with activists to generate diverse methods and tools to implement the idea of feminist ethics of care and inspire women activists in the world - with an emphasis on those working in stressful situations, conflict and war zones - to create their own ethics and practice of care of themselves.

We are aware that this is a complex challenge in dangerous situations when the army pursues activists or when they are likely to be jailed, killed or tortured for their activism. Our solidarity and global sisterhood imply that we also need to be attentive to those situations and find solutions for the health and wellbeing of the activists who put their lives in danger.

Women in Patriarchy are socialized to be the caretakers of others and to neglect their own needs and wellbeing. At the same time, women go through traumatic experiences as their bodies and souls become the battlefield of militaristic and fundamentalist violence. The patriarchal system demands that women neglect themselves, or they are called "selfish" and “self-centered”. But we wish to inspire women activists to give priority, whenever possible, to their own needs and concerns.

Feminist activists for social and political change - women who struggle against fundamentalists, those who confront armed forces, feminists who work with the poor, underprivileged, refugees, survivors of violence, rape and war - take upon themselves a huge responsibility, usually under conditions of stress. Their passionate devotion and daily struggle are crucial in making the world more human. Nevertheless, women’s activism for justice implies reinforcement of the traditional role of caretaking. While they invest their energies in changing the world, most women lack frameworks for sharing, for caring for themselves and healing the trauma they are going through. The absence of these frameworks, combined with the stress they experience through their activism, create deep problems of burnout. Women's unacknowledged emotions are absorbed in their body and cause them emotional stress which naturally turns into major health problems and illnesses.

Witnessing the pain and suffering of women as well as the exhaustion of women activists, we would like to encourage individual, collective and organizational processes that consciously enhance the wellbeing of women activists. By doing so, we express our gratitude to these women and their struggle to sustain the everyday precious women’s actions for justice, peace, and transformation as well as taking care of each other. We wish to encourage organizations to make decisions that promote the wellbeing of their activists and organizations, and write them in protocols and create budgets that would consciously empower the wellbeing and health of women activists. We would like to participate in the creation of a global web of feminists who are actively and gently weaving threads of love and care for themselves and their women's communities.

We feminists wish to remind ourselves:

  • Taking responsibility for caring for ourselves is equally important as caring for others.
  • Taking care of ourselves and others equally is the basis for creation of an inclusive society in which everybody enjoys care.
  • It is our responsibility to find ways to end our exhaustion on a daily basis.

Taking care of ourselves means that we need to learn to take responsibility for our emotional responses, emotional expectations and emotional lives. We are emotional all day long and emotions are the soil of our decisions. Hence we now need to observe and befriend our emotions. We need to trust ourselves that we have done the best we can to stay healthy every moment of our lives.

Fear, guilt, shame, anger and sadness are crucial emotions and part of our life energy. They belong to life circumstances from our past. Every time they come back to us, we need to accept them unconditionally. Their pain can leave us only if we consciously and gently work through our emotions. In the past, they defended us and helped us cope with our pain. But now we can learn to manage them. We can breathe through them and let them go when we are ready to.

The time has come for us women to love, respect and value ourselves. As grown women, we can give ourselves the emotional support that many of us missed in our early years. It is time for us to develop unconditional friendship with ourselves and allow joy into our lives and communities.

We need to be proactive for our own wellbeing and not only for the wellbeing of others. We need to listen to ourselves and define what we want and do not want; we need to respect our limits.

We need each other. We depend on each other as we choose to become autonomous. Autonomy is not achieved by ourselves alone! We all need to talk and be heard and we all need to listen and hear one another. For growth, we need each other in a relationship of reciprocal responsibility.

Women's organizations need to engage in collective responsibility and nourish the web of interconnectedness of our societies. The political culture of organizations has to take into consideration the wellbeing of activists through their structures, power relations, work descriptions and protocols, decision making, annual budgets, informal rituals that give space to the women's concerns in whatever way organizations choose to do it.

In dramatic and extreme situations – as described above – women are also in danger around their safety and mental health. We are committed to creating a global network of feminist therapists, counselors and activists who are ready to respond for the safety, health, mental health and wellbeing of women activists in those situations.

Be Radical, Oppose Patriarchy, Take Care of Yourself!

  • Lepa Mladjenovic, feminist counselor, lesbian and anti-war activist, Belgrade.
  • Marieme Helie Lucas, psychotherapist, women's rights activist, founder of WLUML, coordinator of SIAWI, Algiers.
  • Mary-Jane Real, coordinator of Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, Manila.
  • Yvonne Deutsch, group facilitator, feminist peace activist, social worker, Jerusalem.

May 2010

sharing our 'principles of feminist activist wellbeing'

 Beautiful, Yvonne .....  let me also share the "Principles of Feminist Activist Wellbeing"  that the group of 10 women (activists, defenders, survivors, theorists,. practitioners...)  from Southeast Asia who got together for the first time in 2008, to talk about "sustaining activists and activism" came up with.



  •  WELL BEING is the right of everyone to the highest attainable degree of physical and mental health; it presumes the integration of body, mind and spirit.
  •  The well being of feminist activists is to a great extent negatively affected by the patriarchal and oppressive forces that are the causes of the injustice and human rights violations which she is working to dismantle.
  •  Personal / individual well-being and the wellbeing of families & communities are connected; however, they are not dependent on or conditional to the well-being of each other.
  •  Any model of wellness should include a guide for action based on an analysis of how power structures and relations which maintain systems of privileging affect the health and well-being of activists and their organisations.
  •  The well being of activists is essential to organisational well-being and the sustainability of the movement.
  •  The well being of activists must be supported by and integrated into organisational structures, processes and budgets.


 While understanding that achieving well being is a process, the following are indicators of a healthy feminist activist in a state of well being.


  1. Values herself as a woman encompassing all her complexities of age, race, ethnicity, religion, caste, class, sexual orientation, social and legal status;
  2. Is committed to moving towards optimal physical, mental and emotional health;
  3. Is capable of attaining economic self –sufficiency;
  4. Is constantly open to learning from others and generously shares her knowledge and wisdom;
  5. Appreciates differences as much as similarities between herself and others, be they family, friends, colleagues or adversaries;
  6. Enjoys the power of her desires and emotions and shares this power with integrity and joy;
  7. Takes conscious and informed risks and extends herself in the focused pursuit of her goals, without being overly concerned with either success or failure;
  8. Accepts her struggles with compassion and nurtures herself without guilt;
  9. Understands the interconnectedness between self, others and nature(environment) and balances autonomy & inter-dependency in relationships based on mutual respect and equality.
  10. Does not victimise herself  nor allows herself to be victimised; does not see herself as victim and does not victimise others.



self-care is an act of resistance

DeYvonne wrote:

    Be Radical, Oppose Patriarchy, Take Care of Yourself!

I love this, and thank you Yvonne for posting the manifesto!

AWID has been helping to build the Meso-American Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders along with Just Associates (JASS), Consorcio Oaxaca (Mexico), UDEFEGUA (Guatemala), Colectiva Feminista (El Salvador), and the Central American Women's Fund (FCAM). We bring together WHRDs from across movements, identities, and geographic areas to develop protection networks and promote joint actions to respond to situations of violence. The first step has been to build a common identity as WHRDs, understanding the common threats and contexts in which we work but also building solidarity networks with collective self-care as the center-point. Not as a tool, not as an after-thought. It takes intention to work on self-care, and resist simply attaching an exercise at the end of our meetings, which tend to be "optional" or take place during down-times where people were already exhausted from long days of meetings.

In a regional online dialogue about self-care a few months ago, we also reflected about self-care as an act of resistance to patriarchy. Self-care is not about survival but about active resistance. Reclaiming joy, dance, laughter in the face of pain and sadness is an important way of fighting back. Perhaps this is theoretical or rhetorical; for the WHRDs with whom we work it is a very practical way of overcoming the feelings of guilt associated with self-care.

Methods for integrating heart-mind-body process

In Zimbabwe and many other post conflict countries where am working, and with some of the marginalised groups that i work with such as sex workers, we have no choice but to integrate and shape the Heart-Mind-Body process to 'work' together, so that individuals are not fragmented and that they can become a critical force for movement-building.

One of the methods we use is to accept that we all have secrets, fears, pain and darkness hidden in our cells. But also that the body has a lot of ‘soft’ strengths, a core, that it can use to heal itself. We use writing to pour it all out on paper. When working with rural women we use digging to bring it turn our soul inside out, to expose it. We then take the time to acknowledge it and to find ways of throwing it away and allowing room for new energise to manifest.We use lots and lots of metaphors --for example a pineapple is so rough outside but inside it has a core that supports it. Its juice. If you are not careful you can throw it away thinking that its of no use. We indicate that even some of the sisters who look really tired and wretched as a result of rape and excessive abuse have something deep inside, something sweet. They still have a core that supports them to survive. Peel off one layer after another and you ‘ll find it. All this is done in groups with women from different backgrounds, organisations and associations. 

In order to do heal, renew, mend and strengthen, we ask the participants to

  1. leave organizational identities and partisan politics out, and focus on bringing together individuals in the first phase
  2. assume that common ground – the need – that might enable women to reconnect and draw women together is trauma, burn out, and the pain of the last many years;

We know that without healing, the movement, be it of sex workers of peace or whatever, cant happen. In order to be energise, to be connected and to create openings for conversation, we need to heal. Its only then that we can really talk and connect and build a strong movement. Without healing, pain makes us chew each other. By the time we leave our gathering, our promising hearts, our open minds and hopefully our recovering bodies start to evolve collectivel


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