Self-Care & Self-Defense Manual for Feminist Activists

Collaborating Organizations: Artemisa, Elige and CREA
Publication Date: 
January, 2008
Self-Care and Self-Defense Manual for Feminist Activists

Introduction: For many years, women’s and feminist movements have been fighting on many fronts to eliminate violence against women. This struggle has highlighted the need to develop long- and medium-term strategies to generate the cultural, economic, and social changes necessary to transform the gender configuration that sustains this type of violence.

Similarly, various actions have been implemented that, within a short period of time, aim at providing women with resources to deal with the violence they face on a daily basis. Thus, many practical solutions have been proposed to manage and prevent situations of violence. We ourselves as women activists, continue to face situations of violence on a daily basis. Often, though, we are unable to handle or prevent such acts, as we find it extremely difficult to acknowledge that we, too could be at the receiving end of this violence.

We must start with the belief that the struggle to eliminate gender violence in all its manifestations must first involve work on one’s own self. To take care of ourselves, know how to defend ourselves, and ensure as far as possible that what we are fighting for on behalf of others is also very much a part of our own lives, are the key elements in strengthening our struggle and continuing our march forward.

This Self-Help Manual is a resource to get to know yourself better, optimize your strengths, reflect upon your context and work on caring for yourself. Here, we have proposed a series of reflections and exercises that are an invitation to dedicate a few moments a day, or a week, just to yourself. This, in itself, is an important step forward in building personal self-care strategies and is a vital basis for self-defense against various forms of violence. If you are already in the process of doing so, then use this manual as a resource to accompany you on your journey of self-knowledge and self-care.

The Self-Help Manual has six chapters:

  1. The first chapter, Recognizing who I am, explores our social conditions and the manner in which we shape our perception of ourselves as women and as activists.

  2. In the second chapter, Recognizing the violence that we face, we situate the different types of violence that we experience as women and activists. Here, we have attempted not only to talk of recognizable forms of gender violence towards women but have also touched on violence that occurs in spaces that are considered nonviolent—which could even include the organizations that we are part of—or forms of violence that we do not identify as such.

  3. The third chapter, Lack of self-care: a form of violence, explores the ways in which the lack of self-care translates into self-inflicted violence in the lives of women activists.

  4. The fourth chapter, Optimizing our vital strengths, deals with the issue of women’s empowerment and the optimization of vital strengths and self-care as indispensable elements for empowerment. It highlights the importance of examining the reappropriation of the body, taking care of it and seeking a sense of holistic well being in our lives.

  5. The fifth chapter, Self-defense, explores some resources to combat violence in its physical, legal, and psychological dimensions.

  6. In the sixth chapter you will find a section on “Resources” to draw from in different spheres of your life or in situations of crises. You will also find some sheets that you can use to record the experience of using this Manual.

For the manual to be effective, the following points are important:

  • In this manual you are your own material for study and reflection. Your own experience and knowledge of yourself are your resources for moving forward.
  • By looking at yourself, identifying the social orders that affect your life, reviewing your personal self-care, and making yourself aware of the different forms of violence that you face, you will gradually learn to identify the ways in which we as women activists can protect ourselves, taking into consideration the resources we have to do so.
  • But. ...careful! This does not mean imposing new demands on your already overwhelming "to do list "; or distancing yourselves and shifting attention away from yourself, believing that you have no problems and that you are here to "empathize with and understand" those who "are genuinely in a bad way".
  • It is about believing, once and for all, that all that we know, all that we are fighting for and all that we defend on behalf of other women is possible, and thus it is important to start looking at it and making it a reality within us.

Undertaking this journey of self-exploration and deepening our self-knowledge will help us understand our limitations and strengths, what makes us strong and what makes us vulnerable. It will also help us understand why we are victims of certain types of violence and why we react in one way or the other when we are faced with it.

So.... let us then get down to work! 

Direct Link to Full 128-Page CREA Publication: