For the last few years it has been almost impossible to attend a feminist convening or meeting where the agenda doesn’t include a self-care session, or at least a self-care activity. We’re repeatedly told to take care of ourselves and each other, to take a couple of classes of yoga, meditate, eat well, exercise, and be mindful of our bodily and psychological health. Even, to take some time off to avoid burnout.

But while receiving a massage in these convening spaces, or sitting at a dinner table in New York, what comes to mind, especially for those of us from the global south, is how many sessions of therapy would this massage or dinner cover back home?

And while we enjoy the massage, the dinner, or the swim in the luxury pool, we have to go back to our reality in our home countries, to overwork, stress, underpayment, and a lack of basic health care and social protection. And even in this reality we’re not equal, some of us carry a heavier burden than others, some of us can’t even access the few services the state provides as they’re reserved only to citizens. Some of us can’t even dream to build a family – the institution that remains the main safety net in countries were severe austerity measures have been the norm for decades. Some of us have to pay more for every basic service as they have to live hiding their desires, selves, and lives simply to avoid violence, and some of us have to provide for children, family members, and friends and comrades that we made kin.

This awareness of burnout and the importance of self and collective care, is rarely materialised into concrete institutional realities, leaving us to more self-care advice, sessions, and massages during retreats and conferences. And even more, leaving us to shame, since it’s apparently our fault that we can’t take care of ourselves, and of each other.

Many of the issues covered under self-care today, would have been simply discussed as working conditions before the rise of self-care language. Especially for those among us, for whom their feminist work is their source of income, or part of it. The main difference is that the language of working conditions puts the responsibility where it’s due, on the employer. They call it burnout, we call it overworking. For many of us, our struggle, our feminist struggle is our job, or at least part of our job.

Our passion for what we do, should never become an excuse for stripping us of basic workers’ rights. Health care, including psychological and reproductive and sexual care, aren’t luxuries, they  are not “self-care”. They are human rights and workers’ rights. And for many of us these are not rights that the state provides, and in many places, they are more expensive to us than they already are for the general public. Because our work, our sexualities, and/or our identities are not a safe subject, finding a health care professional who we can discuss our reality with in safety and confidentiality, frequently means going to -very- expensive private clinics. And for those of us struggling with chronic mental health issues, it’s not a temporary need, it’s a constant need just to be able to function as workers.

While self-care language has helped us speak of things that were left unspoken, the same language left us feeling more guilty and ashamed, it’s our fault that we don’t know when to stop, how to take care of ourselves, that we’re not eating right, not exercising enough, not taking time off, and that we’re not good feminists when we’re unable to take care of each other. Instead, we should be seeing our reality as people who are overworked, and most of the times working in very precarious conditions.

As an added source of insecurity and stress, there is the question of what happens to feminists when they grow older, especially if they grow old without traditional families, without children? Especially in countries where the main social protection net is still the family, as the state fails to do its job. Are they left without protection? Left to think, once they hit their thirties, how they’re going to manage their old age? In the last few years, this subject was discussed repeatedly among feminists in their thirties and forties in some networks, already thinking of how and where they’ll live in their old age, how we’ll be able to maintain kinships that do not fit in the traditional middle class family mould, and last but not least how we’re going to provide for ourselves, in a country that provides very minimal universal services.

This isn’t a call for us to ditch the well-being framework, instead, this is a call for us to treat this self-care advice as an institutional responsibility, both for feminists groups, organisations, and/or collectives, and for funding partners. In the last few months, internal in-depth conversations about security, resilience and resistance showed us that if the basic rights of each of the individuals in a collective are not secured, they have only a limited ability to take care of themselves, let alone of each other.

These conversations led us to decide that one of the main priorities of a truly resilient and resistant feminist collective should be to ensure the basic workers’ rights for all its members, from comprehensive health care to a respect for vacation days. These internal policies in any feminist collective or organisation can only become a long term sustainable strategy if a radical change of culture takes place within other groups and funding partners. This is a call for health care, pensions and sustainable salaries to be considered the norms in all funding applications and proposals. This is a call to provide the support that feminist groups need to be able to “take care of each other”, by giving members support and time off before they’re burnt out.

Self care practices may create a good vibe in a meeting or convening, but they don’t fix our problems. As we’re fighting an intersectional feminist struggle, it’s crucial to realise that this intersectionality applies to our solidarity and work across our different realities. And those who live this fight should not be left unprotected without the bare minimum. Let’s walk the walk, together.