A Lesson in Self-Care for Women’s Rights Defenders

by | November 8, 2012
filed under Feminism

by Matilda Branson

Are you a rough, tough women’s rights defender? Are you an advocate for girls and women, battling gender discrimination, forever championing gender equality in the face of adversity? Yes? AWESOME.

A big issue for women’s rights defenders is often the threat of burn-out. Psychologically, you burn out, emotionally drained, exhausted and sometimes frustrated from fighting so hard for gender equality and women’s rights for seemingly little return for your efforts. Sometimes you might even experience less interest in the whole shebang, feel like you want to stop advocating and fighting. If you sometimes feel these things, that is completely ok! It’s human!

Below is a little list, my short guide to self-care for women’s rights advocates, designed to decrease the risk of burn-out:

  1. Look after your physical health. We spend so much time advocating for sexual and reproductive rights, child and maternal health, women’s health, mental health, the intersection of disability and gender, HIV/AIDS, the impact of climate change, poverty, discrimination and everything under the sun related to women’s health and wellbeing. But do you ever stop to think about your own health? How’s your own physical wellbeing? Stress, overworking, bad eating habits (and a penchant for take-out when really busy), a million commitments and not enough hours in the day. These can all lead to opportunistic illness when your immune system is low as a result of not caring for yourself… NUMERO UNO, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!
  2. Look after your emotional wellbeing. This work can sometimes get heavy – child marriage, rape and sexual violence, female genital mutilation, sexual rights, abortion, body image, defending feminism, domestic violence, sex work, slavery – it’s all pretty intense stuff. Make sure you have time to reflect on the work you’re doing, what you’ve done and achieved. Whilst it’s great to always be looking towards the next issue, advocating against inequalities, it’s also important to stop and reflect: how do I see myself, how do I feel in relation to an issue, what effect is this having on me personally and emotionally? How’s my self-esteem and perception of myself these days? Take the time out to really consider how you’re doing emotionally and give yourself a pat on the back from time to time for being an awesome women’s rights advocate.
  3. Enjoy the little things. Yes, gender equality and women’s rights are of utmost importance, and if we don’t advocate for them, then who will? Just remember though, it’s ok to take a breather from time to time, chill out, and enjoy yourself. Take a pen and paper, and write down ten things that give you the most enjoyment and pleasure in your life. They can be anything. You can include gender equality stuff. Then have a look at the list and check how often, or ask when was the last time you did those things. If it’s been awhile, go do them! And don’t feel guilty for doing them, either. You already do great work as a women’s rights defender – it’s ok to chill out sometimes, or we’ll all turn into little people-balls of intensity. So get the balance right, and take some time to enjoy some of the things on your list.

What do you do for self-care?


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  • Danica

    Excellent and important article. Self-care is critical especially for people working under mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual stress.

    It’s also important to take breaks. Take daily breaks for fresh air, healthy food, and relaxation. Take time away from heavy workloads by making weekends for leisure and by taking much-deserved yearly vacation time.

    Surround yourself with positive, uplifting, and empowering people and experiences.

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