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In our research we have found the topic of wellbeing to be at the forefront of concern for defenders today. Being a human rights defender doesn’t only mean being on the front-line witnessing and helping people right there in the thick of it, it can also mean low wages, difficulty accessing resources, and a myriad of other challenges which can take a toll on a person’s wellbeing. Because the world of human rights work fosters a culture which values being self-sacrificing, particularly in hostile environments, and risks are seen as part of the job – reaching out for help can be difficult for defenders, even when they know they are struggling.  

"This website was created by the Human Rights Resilience Project. The Project seeks to promote resilience and improve mental health and well-being among human rights advocates. The members of the project conduct research into mental health, promote awareness of well-being issues in the human rights, offer trainings and mentoring, and work to support the development of a global community of practice engaged in collective learning about resilience."

This book provides a realistic account of being a woman in the human rights movement through a myriad of activist voices. The unique working culture of a WHRD (long nights, guilt about family, low wages) is accepted as part of a life devoted to social change and justice. This is not sustainable, and activists struggle with depression, burn-out, and stress. To bring balance, a range of initiatives regarding wellbeing must be developed and supported, such as sharing experiences with colleagues, allowing time for recovery, and training and education programmes included in budgets.

Drawing on research conducted around the globe, Dr Alice Nah discusses how the culture of human rights work affects the wellbeing of defenders and what we can do to mediate the effects. Human rights workers are seen as heroes and the working practice emphasises self-sacrificing qualities, all of which contribute to a defender’s reluctance to seek help. This policy brief aims to shed some light on these issues and encourages policy-makers, practitioners, and human rights defenders to develop spaces where activists can self-reflect on their wellbeing and develop support strategies to cope with the risks associated with their line of work.

Images by Paru Ramesh