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Imagining Safety and Joy in the Lead up to the AWID Forum

We all engage with activism and become part of wider movements for our own reasons. 

While activism can help us feel free and grow as individuals, the road to imagining our collective futures and the effort that goes into building just, equal, free societies can be physically dangerous and emotionally draining. 

During our activisms, it is an ongoing effort to remind ourselves that we don’t need to settle for anything less than what we deserve or aspire to. And that we are entitled to a joyful, pleasurable and loving life surrounded by people who support us. We all deserve to experience safety and wellbeing through the unconditional acceptance and celebration of our diverse identities and struggles.

Between 2-13 May 2016, AWID held a global discussion on imagining safety and wellbeing. Participants  from all around the world contributed with their insights in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese while at the same time encouraged our global community to re-imagine our individual and collective needs. 

The discussion covered four questions relating to our needs for safety; how movements can create safer environments; strategies for sustaining activisms and how to ensure self care and collective well being. 

Factors necessary for safety

We need a holistic approach to safety. We all deserve and need absolute safety in all physical and emotional spaces, both online and offline. As activists embody different identities and struggles, movements must make space and acknowledge distinct and intersectional needs. 

We don’t demand safety only from the wider societies and communities we are part of, but also from our movements. In order to be safe during activism, we need to make sure our movements are safe spaces. The way to do this is to be educated and aware of our privileges, and unconditionally accept and celebrate our differences within our movements, and movements we collaborate with and learn from. 

Our movements face shortcomings in access to funding, technical support or tools and information which enable and enhance our activist efforts. But to what extent are our movements accessible to all activists who provide meaningful contributions to building just societies? We need to make sure that our movements provide space and visibility to all, regardless of their identity and background. 

“A culturally sensitive based approach to issues dealing with grassroots activism, a sense of respect for who you are and what you bring to the process and an understanding of who you are as a woman, age, race or nationality and the different kinds of countries you are expected to work in.” 

Athini, South Africa

"As an activist the visibility of you and your group is important in country like Pakistan. It can add into your safety but for LGBTI activists it is opposite. The more you are visible the more you are at risk. A better strategy is to have local and international friends and media support who don’t only show solidarity but also jointly carry out advocacy and stream line threats and challenges against you and your work.” 
Chamkeli, Pakistan 

Creating a safer environment for activism

We need to develop tailor made strategies for our safety rather than a one size fits all approach. We are all different from one another and our struggles tell different stories, so how can our needs to feel safe be the same? 

Our movements should not only provide visibility and support to individuals who suffer violence, threats and risks due to who they are and their activism. Intersectional and diverse movements we are a part of should also magnify the actual struggles as well as the individuals who are a part of them. Collective demands must be heard and visiblized as well as solidarity to those who suffer violations. 

“Activists are from different countries maybe things that are sensitive for my safety are not the same for them.” 

Mani, Iran 

“I must say, in the last few years, I have witnessed a kind of solidarity that begins to look like a celebrity-like fetishization and consumption of the threats that activists, women human rights defenders and specifically the more 'globally known' activists face. To put it simply, there is a strong focus on protecting/lifting up our right to struggle (which is absolutely important) but little to no resources being put into our actual struggle(s). In fact, it often seems that our ideas of what the struggle(s), activism, rebellions, defending work is are still defined in a state-centric narrative - being given legitimacy only when/if the state and ruling classes respond to them.”

Ruth, Kenya 

Strategies for sustaining activisms

Caring for ourselves and sustaining our emotional wellbeing is not only essential for the continuity of our struggles, but is a prerequisite to internalizing joy and pleasure in our lives. Our wellbeing is as important as the struggle itself. 

Some of us who participated to this discussion expressed it never occurred to them they deserve a break to breath a little, and be good to themselves. Internalized misogyny and the many pending tasks to keep up the struggle make it difficult for us to pause and prioritize our needs as opposed to others. But we must. All of us deserve rest and care,  and access to movements, resources and individuals who we can reach out to for support. 

 So the first step is realizing the need for care and wellbeing and surrounding ourselves with people who provide us support. Additionally, our activism(s) must seek constructive dialogues in addressing differences, conflicts and disagreements.

Taking a break and admitting need for help does not make us any less strong. Caring for ourselves is not trivial. Joy, pleasure and wellbeing give us enough power to continue the many struggles we tirelessly carry on. 

I honestly never thought that I deserved a rest! So this is a start.”

Natasha, Singapore 

“I seek dialogue constructively differences , conflicts or disagreements. Strengthening protection networks of activists and defenders because it makes us feel stronger and achieve greater impact for the recognition of our work.”

Anamaria, Mexico 

Ensuring self care and culture of collective wellbeing

Love, trust and support from our movements and fellow activists ensure we perform activism in an enabling space where our identities and struggles are celebrated. Actively planning fun and joyful activities with other activists who you know, feel safe around and can trust can help us flourish as activists, and give us energy to keep up the struggle. 

A feeling of collective power fuels up individual strength, and guide us through difficult times. This is why we need to actively think and invest in building support and solidarity within and across our movements, to have a shoulder to rely on when our activism(s) face obstacles. 

“Also doing fun activities together and having one-on-one from the heart talks that are honest. Always maintaining respect to each other is very important, in addition to always assuming good intentions.”

Amal, Egypt 

“We need to make sure to do team-building and anti-stress activities during our annual meeting and workshops, and to check in with colleagues and other WHRDs to see how they are doing, and to let them know we are here for them. We need to remember to say thank you for a job well done.”

Kristina, Canada

AWIDs WHRD Program is grateful to all who participated and followed the discussion. We grow thanks to your contributions, and continuously expand our understanding of our needs and expectations for safe and joyful activism(s). 

AWID Forum