Thank you for joining Analia Penchaszadeh and Katherine Ronderos (co-facilitators) of the Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, Association for Women's Rights in Development for this important conversation! This dialogue was an opportunity to explore the innovative ways that practitioners promote and support their well-being, self-care and security as well as their colleagues. New Tactics has hosted a series of dialogues on keeping human rights defenders safe and well. From this base of individuals, organizations and information, we hosted a dialogue that focused on the next steps and tactics in sustaining the well-being and security of defenders, with particular attention paid to the needs of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs).
How are practitioners/defenders sustaining well-being and security?
Despite many challenges and barriers, women human rights defenders and practitioners are finding innovative and holistic ways to sustain their well-being and security. Dialogue participants stressed that the concept of “self-care” is fundamental to sustaining the well-being of women human rights defenders. Often times, however, a general lack of personal conviction among defenders, regarding their own well-being as well as the patriarchal conception of women as care-givers of the world, leaves them worn-out. In order to combat this reality, human rights practitioners are taking the initiative to organize workshops aimed at creating a sense of conviction which values self-care ideals and activities with a feminist perspective among women human rights defenders. Finding ways to “decompress” is also important; participants discussed the benefits and risks of de-briefing to release anxiety and stress following a traumatic incident.
The idea of “leading by example” was also discussed by feminist participants. That, by leading a lifestyle that consists of a balance between the human rights line of work and self-care, some defenders are advocating to persuade others in the human and women’s rights community to do likewise.
Organizations and funders have also found effective ways to promote the well-being and security of women human rights defenders.
- Spaces are being created: The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has facilitated a “wellness area” for participants during their international forum, where self-care, safety and security were encouraged and supported with wellness practices, as a strategy for the sustainability of the women’s movement.
- Networks are being created and strengthened: AWID has been supporting the development of 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).
- AWID brings together WHRDs from across movements, identities, and geographic areas to develop protection networks and promote joint actions to respond to situations of violence.
- Resources are being identified: AWID and the WHRD International Coalition have developed a mapping of Urgent Responses for Women Human Rights Defenders. The publication outlines different types of available responses, from action alerts to engaging UN mechanisms, from emergency grants to psycho-social support.
- The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project is working to combat the negative consequences that over-working can bring upon activists.
- The Urban Sangha Project contributes to this cause by hosting free yoga and meditation sessions for activists.
- The Icarus Project – an organization which seeks to build communities of mutual aid and care - emphasizes taking care of one's mental health without medicalization or the over-medicalization of mental care.
What are the next steps in sustaining well-being and security?
Participants shared ideas for how we can improve the way we sustain well-being and security for defenders. One participant suggested that linking WHRDs and their organizations with resources for counseling with a pool of practitioners experienced in working with defenders and the specific challenges that they face has been an effective strategy in sustaining the well-being and security of women human rights defenders.
Another participant highlighted what they felt is the need for donors to take a holistic approach when it comes to supporting organizations facing chaos and threats to build organizational and movement cultures that value well-being and security.
There currently is a growing group of practitioners, activists, and donors alike who are interested in sustaining the well-being and security of women human rights defenders, one participant noted. In order to move this cause forward, donors should take advantage of this opportunity and seek to create a common space for such groups of individuals; a retreat - to exchange practices, share experiences, and reflect on obstacles, including economic ones. An open reflection is needed for practitioners to be able to strategize, this participant concluded.
Similarly, the need to create more “safe spaces” for women human rights defenders is significant, one participant suggested. Often times, safe spaces are a place activists can come together and share strategies and get a break from the intensity and danger inherent in their work – usually, these safe spaces operate similarly to safe houses and ought to be more widespread.
The topic of fundraising for human rights work was noted by several participants as a significant, correlated necessity concerning the well-being of women human rights defenders. During further discussion, one participant suggested that there is a need for individuals and groups within the human rights community to share their knowledge, information, and resources with one another in order to better address technical security needs collectively.
There is a feeling that not enough is being done at the institutional level on sustaining the well-being of human rights defenders. This reality seems to be true for different reasons, although the most frequent one being a "lack of resources”. Significantly, also, an identified lack of conviction and of knowledge concerning just how to sustain the well-being of defenders is also a current reality, one participant noted.
Organizations looking at sustaining the well-being and security of defenders, shared by participants:
- Association for Women’s Rights in Development: The Women’s Human Rights Strategic Initiative aiming to “raise awareness of violations of the rights of WHRDs; strengthen mechanisms for their protection; and contribute to more gender-responsive and effective responses to WHRDs at risk”.
- Central American Women's Fund: A “foundation in Central America dedicated to mobilizing resources for grassroots women’s groups and to providing tools, knowledge and opportunities to strengthen women’s groups as organizations that defend and promote their human rights”.
- Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project: An organization which works to “promote an awareness and understanding of Compassion Fatigue and its effect on caregivers”.
- Institute of International Education: An independent not-for-profit organization which is “committed to delivering program excellence to a diverse range of participants, sponsors, and donors”.
- Just Associates (JASS): “An international community of activists, scholars, and popular educators grounded in local and national action in more than 27 countries, working to strengthen and leverage the voice, visibility, and collective organizing power of women to create a just world”.
- New Tactics in Human Rights: A “summary of dialogues on well-being and security for defenders”.
- The Icarus Project: An organization which seeks to build communities of mutual aid and care - emphasizes taking care of one's mental health without medicalization or the over-medicalization of mental care, another participant wrote.
- The Urban Sangha Project: An organization which hosts free yoga and meditation sessions for activists.
Articles and resources:
- AJWS's Grantmaking Strategy Paper: Risk and Responsibility: Protecting Human Rights Defenders