A reflection on the Fiji context by Tiriseyani Naulivou: Sometimes just taking the time to make your bed, before going to work, is an important act that allows you a moment to yourself; a little bit of self-care.
For others, making the bed is a dreaded task!
We are all different but something we have in common is the often forgotten need to recognize that self-care is very personal and very important for our wellbeing.
These thoughts mingled through my mind when I recently caught up with a friend and colleague in the Fiji women’s movement (the movement) and we reflected on how we faired last year and our plans for the new year. My friend has spent her entire career working in the movement, while I am newer in the space, and she has often described it as very rewarding but often very stressful. I excitedly shared I was about to enroll in a wellness program with some colleagues because I felt it would help me along my journey with self-care. She then explained that for her, self-care begins each morning when she arises and tidies her bed. She described that first, simple action as being an important time for herself. It’s the first action she does to bring about order to her day before leaving home to start the chaos of the day.
Our conversation brought me back to the Fiji Women’s Fund’s Annual Reflection Workshop in 2019. The workshop is an annual event that brings together existing and previous grantee partners and stakeholders to collectively reflect on our journey, share experiences, celebrate achievements and to strategize on how to address any challenges we may have faced during the year. The workshop began with a panel discussion on the movement itself and featured feminist activists Mamta Chand (Fiji Women’s Rights Movement), Veena Singh (The Pacific Community) and Virisila Buadromo (Urgent Action Fund for Asia and Pacific). They shared their thoughts on the movement and what it means to them. They described the movement as a space of solidarity, accountability, peace, strength, sisterhood, opportunity, respect, collaboration, healing and pain. The panelists’ candid reflections revealed that, in its worst form, the movement can also be a space that is toxic, unhealthy and capable of driving the most steadfast, well-intentioned feminist to “burn-out”.
One of the panelists shared how it is not uncommon for women who work in or lead women’s rights or feminist organizations, to experience burn-out if they or their organization does not value self-care. She expressed two opinions as to why:
Resourcing is prioritized over implementation work and very little is allocated to institutional strengthening, which would have allowed organizations to facilitate opportunities for their team members’ self-care.
Long-held views that those involved in activism should be selfless, putting the needs of those we serve above our own.
What is self-care and how can we implement it?
According to FRIDA (an international young feminist fund), self-care is a political strategy critical for sustaining the movement. Former Slate culture writer and current Culture editor, op-ED at the New York Times, Aisha Harris explains that it became a political act during the rise of the women’s and civil rights movement when women and people of color regarded it as a response to medical systems that did not adequately address their needs. Deepa Ranganathan and María Díaz Ezquerro also described self-care as;
“a security mechanism that can help women’s human rights defenders cope with physical and digital risks and prevent burnout and vulnerabilities at an early stage of our roles as activists. At its core, self-care challenges the patriarchal vision of women as carers of the family and community, at the cost of undermining our own sanity and health. Often, self-care is only related to the individual level. But it cannot be separated from the collective well-being within our organizations, shared efforts, and movements. Collective self-care, as an essential part of integrated security, is a feminist act of resistance and resilience that contributes to transformative social change and strengthens the sustainability of our work.”
Self-care isn’t a new topic, and as many others have written about, it has become highly commercialized. Spa treatments, holiday vacations, gym memberships, even nature trips, and the likes have been attractively packaged along with their not-so-attractive prices. These respond to a growing awareness of the need for people to take time-out. But for the activists and advocates in the movement, these are too extravagant and too selfish, and they question: ‘why would we be indulging in these activities when we need to be channeling all our efforts and resources to improving the lives of women?’ Self-care needs resourcing.
As for the panelist, she has both experienced and witnessed, first-hand, the effects of organizational stress. This she said led to the adoption of bad coping mechanisms such as moodiness, limited sleep, exhaustion, and illness. The executive team in her organization then began researching self-care and well-being. They realized the need to change organizational culture by institutionalizing provisions for collective self-care. Speaking with several other feminist and civil society organizations in Fiji, we discovered that while a few had time-off policies or collective self-care activities for staff, the majority said that, with already limited resources and budget constraints, it has been challenging to support self-care activities.
Nevertheless, the kinds of support these organizations are currently providing for self-care include:
- Time-off for those who have been under heavy workloads
- Afternoon or lunchtime team sports or walks which is inexpensive and fun
- Teambuilding get-away or pay increments
- Counseling and support for staff who have witnessed or handled traumatic cases such as working with abuse and sexual assault victims