The topic of wellbeing is one which concerns many defenders today, as evidenced by the wealth of global resources highlighted on this page. Being a human rights defender does not only mean dealing with violations and atrocities, 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.
hrresilience.org is a website created by the Human Rights Resilience Project, which seek to promote resilience, and improve mental health and well-being among defenders. The project members conduct mental health research, advocate for visibility and the promotion of awareness of wellbeing issues within the human rights sphere, offer trainings and mentorings, and strive to support the development of a global community of practice which is engaged in learning collectively 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