Caring for Ourselves and One Another is a Political Pact
Written by Miriam Camas, Manager, Guatemala Special Program
The Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres’s (Central American Women’s Fund – FCAM) Guatemala Special Program supports more than 26 organizations working for the rights of women experiencing situations of violence, trafficking and exploitation, in areas that have historically been affected by social and political crisis, as well as along the south-north migration route. These organizations constantly gather to reflect and ensure that the work they implement together with other women will result in a positive impact in terms of their capacities and the opportunity to live a life free from violence, and to fully and equally enjoy respect for their human rights.
The work of these organizations is led by women’s rights defenders that dedicate part of their time – and in some cases, their lives – to protect and care for other women. This means they constantly find themselves reproducing one of the gender roles that is most assigned to us as women, that says that we exist for others and should always be available others. This mandate touches all of us, and when our identity also includes human rights defense, it is even more difficult to break it down. We confront recognition of our own privilege in the midst of complex contexts woven with neoliberal narratives that, on one side, glorify eternal productivity, and on the other, punish rest and limits.
Within the larger women’s movement and feminist philanthropy, our hope is that the social transformations that we promote and that we hope to achieve challenge the idea that “we can do this on our own.” Our reach expands through collectives and alliance-building that is based on sisterhood, respect, trust and recognition, especially when this coordination involves reflection that will endure over time (we have named this, “building through movement”). This process is not spontaneous, rather it takes the necessary time to understand and value diversity and differences while finding areas in common (like the values we work to defend, long-term goals and objectives, intentional citizenship and collectivity as part of an organization, or our gender experiences, among others).
As part of their efforts toward ongoing reflection to promote movement building, the Guatemala Special Program and its partners began self-care interventions¹. Throughout 2019, every time that we have had the opportunity to come together we collectively strive to identify the conditions that make it possible for us to care for ourselves and one another. Furthermore, we find ways to reflect without losing sight of analysis of power relations defined by gender, age, sexual identity and orientation, ethnicity, class and other intersectional variables, that seek to transform the patriarchal system.
The conditions that human rights defenders identify as essential for committing to self-care and collective care as a political part can be summarized as follows:
- We can and should “release.”
- We learn to receive and ask for care as a gift.
- We learn to speak from our own needs.
- We enjoy being taken care of by myself and others.
- We have our political pact of shared complicity.
- We respect space, silence and dissidence.
- We speak for ourselves, and listen to others.
- We respect the rhythms of life.
- We celebrate diversity and pleasure.
- We have a right to happiness.
These conditions are the foundation to build a future vision that is not only responsible for us as human rights defenders, but also with our organizations and the work we do together with other groups or collectives.
For the Guatemala Special Program, taking on self-care and collective care as a political pact also means sharing FCAM’s commitment to women and diverse members of collectives, groups and networks that we support. This commitment seeks to guarantee their right to personal safety; physical and emotional wellbeing; economic, social and environmental justice; and to participating as leaders in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.
This commitment leads us to learn from allies like IM-Defenders (IM-Defensoras), who in their publication, “What Does Self-Care Mean for Human Rights Defenders,” emphasize that “The political sense of self-care (…) can be possible in the collective dimension, in reflection and action that allows us to feel accompanied by one another, in resisting and transforming into belonging to something greater than oneself. It is in the collective space that subversive power expresses itself. At the same time, a substantial part of achieving self-care is through one’s own personal transformation, the search for identifying one’s own needs and personal limits, and taking the most advantage possible of the tools and capacities that we have (IMD & et al: 2013 p.20).
The August gathering was carried out with the support of a Central American consultant (Yolaina Salmerón), who helped us to identify individual needs, with the most important being:
- Need for emotional wellbeing.
- Need for rest.
- Need for family time.
These needs clearly intersect with the work that human rights defenders take on every day, and make sense for the collective group; this kind of care implies shared responsibility among all involved actors (institutional or otherwise). It highlights that each one of us is in constant interaction with other people and organizations, and it is here that we have the opportunity to initiate a conversation and create conditions (as minor as they may seem) to care for ourselves and one another.
These reflections emerged from a marvelous gathering in August, and will continue for FCAM because we understand that movement building involves strengthening organizations and offering spaces in which they can build shared actions tied to our feminist values. These spaces open the way for happiness, empowerment and collective horizontal leadership. We know that we will continue promoting these practices and learning together with the defenders that make up our grantee partners. In closing, I am profoundly grateful for the ongoing support, feedback, hope, tenderness and love that each one of the diverse women that participated in the gathering brought to this meeting.
¹The concept of self-care is also reinventing itself. Personally, I feel most comfortable using concepts of self-care and collective care as a political pact.