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Webinar Summary: Self-Care and Collective Wellbeing

On 22 August 2016 the Black Feminisms Forum and the Advisory Group on Wellbeing co-hosted a webinar on self-care, collective wellbeing, joy and pleasure as integral components in our struggles for rights and justice.

The panelists shared their knowledge and experience with over 80 women’s rights and feminist activists in a vibrant exchange. Questions from the audience tackled the transformative potential of self and collective care but also the profound difficulties and challenges of putting it into practice. How can self-care be negotiated with family responsibilities? How can we learn to prioritise self-care over deadlines? How do we deal with working in organizations that perpetuate sexual harassment or racist hierarchies? Can sex be a form of self-care? 

This topic isn’t new, and yet taking care of ourselves in our lives and our movements still does not come easy. This webinar reminded us how important it is to take this conversation further, if we wish to embody the feminist futures we dream of. 

Listen to the recording


Some of the Highlights

Lin Chew

Feminist human rights activist, mother, grandmother and potter. She is co-founder and Director of the Institute for Women’s Empowerment (IWE) focusing on transformative and sustainable feminist leadership.

  • Self-care is learning how to live our lives in a way that we are mindful of how we are, knowing ourselves in a way that is holistic – how are we mentally, physically, spiritually, in our relationships, in our emotions. It is the understanding that the personal and the political are together. The personal has to be mindful of the collective, and the collective has to be mindful of the individual. · 

  • Self-care is not a separate task, but it is how we do our work. If you are stressed, can you stop, take a breath, lie down for a minute? Maybe that’s exactly what’s going to help you complete your work. 

  • With attention and commitment, there are many ways sharing ways of knowing yourself, of self-care and wellbeing with communities and people who can’t go to retreats or afford losing a day’s salary. We can integrate exercises of sharing and dealing with emotions in every activity with the individuals and groups we work with, and explain what it is important. 

Lucia Victor Jayaseelan

Feminist activist and a human rights lawyer, who has taken up issues of political detainees, refugees, migrants, and violence against women. She is also a practitioner in various healing therapies, including Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu. 

  • The idea of self-care is important because being involved in anything political is to understand that you are political. The attention to the body and spiritual dimension is part of our struggle. For example, in labour rights activism you can clearly see a strong connection between working conditions and all traumas and personal problems. 

  • Patriarchy places impossible expectations on us; requires to be super human - a parent, an employee - while living with the choice to be a human rights defender.

  • Having involved my daughter in all my struggles and listen to her saying, “I love you mom for what you are doing, you have made me”, helped me to deal with the guilt. 

  • Stress won’t go away, but the question is how do we balance that. How do we preserve ourselves? How much longer can we be activists, or do we shorten that life time? 

Aina-Nia Ayo’dele

Feminist spiritual activist, leadership development trainer, ancient wisdom teacher and life coach. She is the founder and managing director of Sacred Women International (SWI).

  • As activists and women who lead, we often forget ourselves. We take such good care of everyone else, and the truth is, we cannot give fully to others from an empty cup. How do we create sustainability and resilience in our movement when we ourselves are not well, tired, burn out? Self-care for me is the beginning of the movement.

  • Self-care is about setting clear boundaries, about honouring who we are, understanding who we are in our worth. Guilt comes from not feeling worthy, from not feeling that we deserve the things that we desire. And one of them is resting well, drinking water, taking a breath, even amidst of chaos, just stop, everybody can wait. And knowing we deserve to stop and take that breath. 

  • For self-discipline and to build self-care into your life, we can start with something small, that you commit to every day. I am going to appreciate myself by saying I appreciate myself every morning. And the practice becomes embodied.

Muyoti Mukonambi (Alix)

Artivist, social innovator, healer, and Sacred Women International’s Advocacy Coordinator. Alex is grounded in community education within the social justice movements for queer/trans rights and the Pan-Afrikan struggle for liberation.

  • As activists, we often don’t go through one cycle of burnout, but several. As we are centring radical feminist politics, that piece of self and collective care has to do with accountability: how more effectively I can serve the community by sustaining myself?

  • Reclaiming indigenous ways of knowing, in a global context, can provide us this piece of grounding in the village, in the community, remind us who our accountability partners are. 

  • Self-care can become more attainable when we are strongly connected to our sense of purpose, our vision as activists, our capacity to fulfill our mission and do what brings us joy. Then everything becomes gentler. Remember that you are worthy of self-care.

Charo Mina-Rojas

Afro-Colombian human rights defender with more than two decades years of activism at the national and international levels. Charo is member of the Black Communities’ Process.

  • It is common in our activism that organizations don’t develop financial autonomy to support the women that are doing the work. Not having any resources for self-care can generate stress, anxiety and sometimes discouragement. 

  • As we work towards the outside, we need to work towards the inner self. This is just not work we can to do individually, but a collective exercise and an integral part of the organizational process. 

Ana María Hernández

Feminist woman human rights defender from Mexico. She coordinates the Self-care Strategy at the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras) and La Serena House for self-care and healing for women defenders.

  • It is important to think about how to empower ourselves. Taking care of ourselves is not only to confront violence but also to think how to regain autonomy, leadership, project a message of life. Building collective power is part of this. 

  • In Mesoamerica we have been building self-care and collective wellbeing in our activism as part of a political strategy, not just to face our current contexts but also as a way to increase our holistic protection and wellbeing as part of this transformation.


Read further contributions from panelists and participants in the eDiscussion

Ideas and suggestions for AWID’s future engagement with self-care and collective wellbeing?

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