In the contemporary world of patriarchy, racism, ableism, capitalism, neoliberalism, and continuing oppression by the state, feminist activists tend to burn on the frontlines, selflessly fighting for the importance of preserving human rights and individual freedoms. Unfortunately, this fight and strike are often becoming romanticized and taken for granted by everyone, including feminist movements. This creates a complicated notion of normalization and admiration when it comes to scarifying yourself on an altar of feminist resistance. But, what actually does it mean to “burn for our freedom [and justice]” and what are the possibilities to make a radical, political stand when it comes to self-preservation and sustainability? What is our individual and collective role in reclaiming our divine right to live, be, and move beyond survival?
Artwork by Kruthika NS (@theworkplacedoodler)
In this article, we would like to honor the labor from communities across the world, especially Indigenous Communities and progressive emancipatory social justice movements, that have nourished our understanding and wisdom about collective care. And, acknowledge the troubling concept of “selfishness” and rephrasing this word in order to create a deeper understanding of the physical and emotional challenges of our feminist resistance. Audre Lorde, for instance, was one of the first feminists who started questioning the necessity for “selfishness” and an urgent need to replace that concept with “self-preservation”, for instance, she points out: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” By opening up the understanding of self-care, we may see more voices of civil society taking a stand on acknowledging the importance of care for oneself and its connection to caring for our communities. Namely, the World Health Organization, or The Guardian magazine, started exploring the idea of self-care and establishing new definitions of the term: “Self-care is a remarkably flexible term. It includes nearly any activity people use to calm, heal and preserve themselves in the face of adversity.” However, it is important to acknowledge the “flexibility” of such term, and provide a more comprehensive understanding that, as feminists, we would like to see self-care as an irreplaceable part of collective care. Hence, we care for ourselves in order to care for our communities.
We see such notions emerging and evolving in feminist and activist movements and those who prioritize feminist values worldwide. For instance, TARSHI, points out: “Self-care and collective care are closely linked, because self-care cannot be sustained if collective care is not maintained. And collective care is hard to imagine when one doesn’t prioritize and understand self-care.” It is also becoming integrated into publications and resilience building of feminist Funds, such as FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund and Global Resilience Fund, who even established a support grant system, that battles the whole understanding of efficient money spending by supporting feminist collectives with grants for self-care and collective care and stressing the importance of flexibility when it comes to money distribution in their communities.
BUT WHO CAN ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT AND PRACTICE SELF-CARE?
The conversation around self and collective care is gaining momentum in many feminist spaces. However, these spaces are often inaccessible to the most marginalized communities. Even for those who somehow manage to join in the conversation, practicing care is a completely different ballgame. These communities experience multiple forms of structural barriers in accessing care and hence are in need of additional attention and support.
First of all, for the communities fighting hunger, poverty, landlessness, lack of proper healthcare, and unemployment among many other challenges as a result of centuries-long systemic discrimination, care is hardly a priority. Suppose one is coming from a marginalized community and place of scarcity. In that case, if there are no open safe public spaces for rest, no affordable therapy, no supporting programs, and no places where you can freely speak, it becomes obvious that self-and collective care greatly depends on privileges. Secondly, acknowledging pain, trauma, and need for care and compassion is considered a sign of weakness. Activists in the frontline of social movements are under huge pressure to fit into the narrow traditional definition of strength by suppressing their care needs. Dovan Rai, a Nepali feminist activist, shared about times when her colleagues in the Nepali Citizen’s Movement fought back tears and insisted they were alright even when they were crumbling under the pressure of leading a self-organized voluntary social movement.
Similarly, the most marginalized communities and their movements are often met with the most intense socio-political scrutiny. Addressing this scrutiny exhausts most of their resources, leaving little to nothing for care. The Dalit and the LGBTQI+ community in Nepal often face challenges in renting housing or community spaces for their movements even in the capital city of the country. The LGBTQI+ community in Malaysia is forced to organize secretly. They are forced to dedicate a huge chunk of their resources just to conceal their identities- leaving no space for care.
Finally, the movements of the marginalized communities have been nothing but resilient in the face of adversity. The communities have their own unique way of surviving violence, oppression, exclusion, and discrimination. Nevertheless, there is an urgent need too acknowledge, amplify and radicalize traditional care practices while ensuring their access to the mainstream care discussion and practices.
ROOTING OUR WORK IN COLLECTIVE CARE IS POLITICAL RESISTANCE
Historically, collective care manifested firstly through mutual aid and, later on, charity, in the community. As a result of leftist and feminist social movements, particularly after the Second World War, collective care was brought to the level of the state in the form of welfare institutions (like publicly funded obligatory mass education, health, and care institutions for everyone), social safety, and solidarity nets (like pension and social security funds, paid parental leave, paid sick leave, and vacation time). These institutions were meant to lift a significant part of domestic care work traditionally done by women in the private sphere to the level of society. Some examples include education of children (kindergartens and schools), caring about sick family members (hospitals, daycare centers for patients, hospices), nutrition (canteens for students, workers or pensioners, and soup kitchens for homeless people), and so on. These institutions of the public sector were not evenly established across the world. But they were major contributions to lifting collective care to the societal level.
These institutions should have been further democratized to overcome the one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, most of them continue to be dismantled, through selling, shrinking, and closure, by neoliberal attacks on the welfare state. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been driving this model through their austerity measures that dismantle all social safety programs and, as a result, increase poverty and inequity (especially horrifying through their covid “relief” loans that include predatory clauses that would push countries to adopt austerity measures - moving us further away from a just pandemic recovery). Consequently, the people and communities in the most marginalized context continue to be left behind, without much-needed social services and options to claim their inherent human rights.
Currently, we are facing a pandemic, intersecting and compounding crises, deep grief and loss, and a sharp rise in wars. All direct results from an imperialist capital global system with well-funded mechanisms seeking to exploit us. Girls, youth, and women face the brunt of the violence and oppression created by this system. Yet, as our societies are cracking along so many lines and experiencing intensifying crises, feminists continue to fill the gaps left by governments and institutions and are at the frontline of the community and emergency response.
When we talk to our communities of fellow activists, we all share a grave level of exhaustion, and the data clearly reflects this reality by showing detriment in youth’s mental health, and the increase in suicide rates, especially among communities in marginalized contexts such as refugees and migrants, Indigenous, Black, LGBTI, and Roma. We know too well that we must prioritize our care as part of our resistance, after all the revolution will not be sustained without our collective care.
Thus, it must be our commitment and part of our political agenda to root all of our work in collective care. This means:
Recognizing that caring for ourselves is part of our efforts to care for our communities
Developing non-paternalistic models of care
Being critical of and scrapping the models of activism exceptionalism that replicate the same systems of oppression that we are working to dismantle
Centering care for and by people from marginalized context: oppressed classes and casts, racialized people, gender minorities and gender non-conforming people, and persons with disabilities
Holding ourselves and communities accountable for our individual and collective care
Protecting and respecting our natural environment and non-human beings
Understanding and recognizing our power and privilege to unlearn harmful practices and address the deep inequity that exists, such as in time and resources, to access care - moving towards non-market-oriented forms of care
Understanding and honoring the rich and vast diversity of wisdom and practices of collective care that have existed and continued to be developed within each community and movements across the world
Reclaiming space to heal, feel, and connect with ourselves and our dreams
Moving away from one approach fits all: when it comes to self-care, a precondition for collective care, it is important to understand what works for you
Trusting the community- meaning that we trust that we have each other's back so when we rest we know the group/movement is still going
The interdependence of care is also the interdependence of learning. Caring for ourselves and our communities is a continuous and evolving journey. We do not seek nor expect to have a perfect approach, but rather the spaciousness to be able to understand what we need and dream, and how we can support each other as we move beyond survival.
“Collective care is a practice that we all have to co-construct and we are going to make a lot of mistakes along the way but it is definitely the resistance” - GRF grantee partner
PRACTICES AND SPACES OF COLLECTIVE CARE
Collective Care Open Space
Collective care encompasses different levels and meanings in diverse contexts. In conversations about collective care hosted by The Global Resilience fund, young feminists described how self and collective care manifests in transforming our contexts, setting more human & nature-centered structures, the way we relate and communicate with each other, and how we build, exchange and decolonize knowledge. These are some of the recommendations and reflections from the conversation:
Questioning everything, but also showing up as an attentive listener
Pushing for education on stigmatized and marginalized topics, whether that might be sex education, learning about neurodivergence, understanding needs linked to different disabilities, or anything else that does not fit in the binary patriarchal world
Holding space for healing and dealing with pain, anger, and frustration - this is a starting point. Then move to tailored context- and people-specific practices for physical and mental wellbeing
Being mindful of the different needs of each person by creating an environment that is accommodating to different bodies, and introduces measures for both physical and mental well-being - Getting rid of ableism is the first task!
Being constructively self-reflective about our practices, having honest conversations, and looking to improve what is needed- as one activist shared: “Belonging to a marginalized community doesn't make us exempt from harming others, even those in our communities. This is something I find challenging in providing collective care - to make sure I don't do that”
Not abusing power and privileges
Holding space for people to be themselves. Be attentive to others' situations, challenges, and limitations. Check in with people while being attentive to each other's boundaries.
Showing solidarity with others, building safety nets, and providing mutual aid: “collective care is one way of helping those who are unable to help themselves due to certain circumstances. As a whole we can solve someone's problem”
Respecting labor rights and nurturing a decent working environment.
Combining radical transformational practices and building on local traditions: use what is helpful and nurturing, and leave behind what is harmful and patriarchal in traditional culture
Being mindful of the resources we use by paying attention to the environmental footprint and protecting the natural environment through all our practices
Visit the Mural board, linked here, from the space to explore further
An invitation to politics of collective care
Even with the awareness of the bare necessity for collective care, activists sometimes do not apply for such funds even when there are flexible funding options - including more specific types of care, such as safety/security measures. Collective care tends to become a priority only after heavy burnouts, incidents, and major risks. This pattern has become evident with partner organizations, and the staff members of Reconstruction Women’s Fund (RWF) from Serbia have discussed the issue with some supported activists. As shared in the discussions, the reasons for not considering collective care needs when applying for flexible funding, either with RWF or other donors, can be loosely classified into two root issues:
The groups prioritize other needs: maintaining spaces, strengthening services, focusing on programs and staff salaries; the reality of grassroots work comes with numerous unpredicted circumstances, so when and if there is an option of some extra money, the groups would rather use it for improving their working premises, for instance, or keeping it as a reserve in case of emergencies.
The groups don’t feel invited to apply for collective care support: they feel like if they ought to ask for such support it would be too much, they feel like it exclusively belongs to more privileged classes, activists of previous generations (especially those with the experience of anti-war activism) do not feel like collective care practices and burnout prevention resonates with them, activists from smaller areas feel like collective care is too fancy for them.
All of the named reasons come with their own understandable roots. Still, these circumstances do not exempt donors from the responsibility of not only supporting activists with access to richer resources for collective care but also doing a better job at creating a more inviting environment where activists feel comfortable and encouraged to access the resources. This thin line between having the option of supporting collective care and actively promoting it, attentively improving it, and encouraging activists to consider and co-create it, is one of the major differences between collective care as a vague concept and collective care as a core donor’s politics. This sort of politics, let us remind ourselves, comes with multiple benefits, considering that one of the most powerful aspects of collective care is seeding change that goes beyond the activists that practice it and overflow into their communities. In these terms, it resembles other types of grantmaking programs or at least their political goals. The least donors can do is acknowledge it as such, and promote it as they would any other essential program.
Global Resilience Fund Collective Care Funding Snapshot
In 2021, the Global Resilience Fund’s grantmaking focused on supporting the resilience and collective care strategies of the existing cohort of grantee grantees. This included:
Collective Care & Healing grants: supporting groups to exchange, share and access practices of care, wellbeing, and resilience.
Community Building & Collaboration grants: Supporting groups to connect thematically and regionally, to promote cross-regional knowledge, experience, and practice sharing and exchanging strategies for surviving and thriving during the pandemic.
CALL TO ACTION FOR FUNDERS
As we discussed at the Pro-Action Cafe, solidarity requires action and a commitment to collective care. Honor and support the sustainability of our efforts by:
Recognizing that the philanthropic sector, at its core, is flawed as the accumulation and hoarding of resources should not exist. Thus, it is your role to ensure the resources are returned and redistributed to the communities it is owed to
Resourcing our collective care needs and efforts through flexible and accessible funding
Advocating for more funding that supports our collective care
Moving away from the activism exceptionalism paradigm
Reviewing, analyzing, and adjusting your practices and mechanisms to ensure they are meeting the needs of the communities it is supposed to serve
Continuing to listen intentionally and be in a trusting relationship with the community - those with the lived experiences and wisdom hold the solutions
COLLECTIVE CARE RESOURCE GARDEN
Appreciating the work of those who fought before us, and honoring and learning from our collective history is a valuable (individual and collective) stepping stone. Feminist knowledge on collective care is co-created by bridging scientific, spiritual, and emotional components of our activism and existence.
A needs Assessment: stress Management and burnout prevention for caseworkers and human rights activists working on issues of gender and sexuality in India report by Tarshi and Nazariya- click here to access
Embodied Practice: How to bring movement practice into virtual space to foster connection with our bodies article by Root.Rise.Pollinate - click here to access
Emergency Response Toolkit by Capacitar - click here to access
Feminist Digital Self-care Manual by Akahata - click here to access
FRIDA | Young Feminist Fund’s self-care plan guide - click here to access
Healing in Action: A Toolkit for Black Lives Matter Healing Justice & Direct Action - click here to access
Healing Solidarity Collective community space - click here to learn more
Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders by Frontline Defenders - click here to access
Self-Care for Caregivers by Vini Doshi - click here to access
Self and Collective Care Guide by Jessica Horn - click here to access
Self-Care and Self-Defense Manual for Feminist Activists by Artemisa, Elige, and CREA - click here to access
Strategies for Building an Organization with a Soul by Hope Chigudu and Rudo Chigudu - click here to access
The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Independence by The Care Collective - click here to access
We believe in the power of collective wisdom. If you have any resources that you would like us to include on this list please email email@example.com.
Dani Prisacariu is a coach, facilitation, and collaboration practitioner focused on participatory capacity building for social change. Much of their work so far has been in LGBTQI+ and feminist activism in Romania and internationally, and in community organizing for social justice. For the past five years, they have coordinated Gender Talk, a community initiative of gender explorers and rebels that works to create more space and possibilities for us all to exist and thrive outside the gender binary. They support the Global Resilience Fund's accompaniment program and the grantmaking process in Europe and Central Asia.
Evdokia Romanova aka Dunia is an intersectional queer feminist originally from Samara, Russia. Dunia has centered her work on the topics related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, artivism, and theatre as well as alternative ways of funding outside of the mainstream model and sustainability of radical human rights collectives. Dunia holds an MA in sociology and is inspired by the solidarity of grassroots organizing.
Galina Maksimović is a Program Coordinator at Reconstruction Women’s Fund. Previously, she has worked as a waiter, seasonal worker in agriculture, translator, web content writer, playwright, dramaturg. For years, she has been engaged with diverse leftist and feminist initiatives, either within organizations such as ROZA Association for Women’s Labour Rights - the beginning of her current path, or as a “freelance” activist. Besides her work in the field of feminism, what currently occupies her the most is support to migrant workers in her hometown. She writes narrative poetry.
Laura Vergara is a cuir (queer) Colombian feminist activist sprouting collective action through the power of storytelling. Her activism began through her work within the immigrant and refugee rights movement and expanded across feminist and intersecting social movements. She finds inspiration in social movements, collective care, art, and those that root themselves in solidarity and love.
Marija Jakovljevic is a Sociologist with 15+ years of engagement connecting feminism, human and environmental rights, peacebuilding, social and solidarity economy, and progressive philanthropy. Marija’s activism started in high school fighting against sexual harassment after which she became a peer educator on SRHR. As a journalist, researcher, educator, facilitator, and coordinator she supported resourcing progressive social struggles, knowledge, and capacity building. She is currently a Social Change Initiative Fellow exploring the intersection of peacebuilding and solidarity economy for resourcing progressive social change.
Subina Pariyar is a teacher and Comprehensive Sexuality Education trainer in Kathmandu, Nepal. She is a Social Science graduate and passionate about issues surrounding women, LGBTQIA+ and Dalits (a caste group which is considered impure and untouchable in the Indian Subcontinent). She enjoys studying the process by which some groups and communities acquire more power over others, how such power dynamics shape societies and what civil society must do to ensure equal rights and access to power for everyone. When she is not working or studying, she can be found cooking, doodling and chatting with her parents.