Creating the conditions to heal and be well

By Zohra Moosa, Executive Director, and Happy Mwende Kinyili, Director of Programmes

Visionary feminist activists get up every day to organise in their communities and to name injustices that otherwise would remain invisible. Mama Cash understands that feminist activists don’t have the luxury of not doing this work that they are doing. They take action out of necessity because, in order to survive and thrive, they and their communities need a changed world.

In frequently hostile contexts, these feminist activists do their vital work at great personal risk and cost. It takes a heavy physical, mental, emotional and spiritual toll on them as individuals and as groups. It affects their health, their spirits, their relationships and their ability to sustain both themselves and their work.

As a funder, we believe we cannot be passive about this reality. We choose not to accept that such vital, life-affirming work itself becomes a threat to the lives and well-being of those pursuing it. 

That is why Mama Cash launched the Resistance & Resilience initiative a few years ago. We wanted to support activists with resources to assess and meet the breadth of their security, healing,safety and well-being needs. 

We feel a responsibility to ensure that activists have these resources because we recognise that feminist organising for liberation is essential, urgent, challenging, long-term work. Our task as grantmakers is to match activists’ level of courage and determination, and to collaborate properly with them as they lead the way to oppose and survive oppressive and repressive systems. 

The threats they face come in many forms. When people think about security, they often think of it in physical terms: safety from land mines or car accidents, for example. Of course physical security is very important, but many women, girls, trans people and intersex people also experience other types of threats to their security, safety and well-being – threats that we might call ‘relational’. That is, they face threats of violence from their own families and communities, as well as governments, and which focus on their relationships with others.

For example, the state may target them with a smear campaign to discredit them as an activist, but also as a mother. Community members may intimidate and harass them for working on women’s rights issues in public with other ‘bold women’, playing on sexist and anti-lesbian stereotypes and sentiments. Family members may require them to perform a false gender at family gatherings in order to be able to attend. Each of these undermines the safety and well-being of activists, and results in a feeling of insecurity – they are left with the idea that the price of their activism is that their mental, emotional and spiritual, and of course physical, integrity are at risk.

There are many ways of describing an approach to security and safety that account for the whole person, prioritise care, healing and well-being, and respond to context including social relations. At Mama Cash, we work with the term ‘holistic security and safety’. For us, supporting holistic security and safety is about creating the conditions and providing resources that allow people to care for themselves and their communities and develop spaces to heal, so that they can be well and safe in all of the ways that they need to be, including physical safety, of course, but also mental, emotional and spiritual safety, to name just a few other dimensions of safety. 

Holistic security and safety invites us to ask: What are the different ways that people experience their humanity? Where might you be under threat or experiencing stress, oppression or a sense of restriction? What are you not able to exhale around? We hope that by asking these questions, we can help to create space for activists – and funders – to think holistically about what feminists need to sustain their activism and to sustain their lives in the face of injustice and threat. Providing resources for this kind of inquiry is an important contribution that we as funders can make to activists’ strength, safety, healing, security and well-being.