30 July 2018

Here, in this space of sharing, is an opportune moment to talk about security and care among activists, together with representatives of the Latin American feminist movement. This is especially timely since our regional coordination is key for building and supporting strategies that guarantee those rights already won by women and their incredible struggles.

I would like to thank the ELAS fund and the young women in attendance, since their joy and their creative and new ways of political engagement incite and invite us to re-think the place we have occupied and/or wish to continue occupying- this place of our resistances and why not, of our fears of not belonging anywhere, of being forgotten, of losing power.

However, I wish to share this African proverb which says: “Each elderly person who dies is a library we lose”. Its message for us is the recognition and safeguarding of the place of the most elderly, bringing their constructions and contributions to light, and reflecting upon their commitment and role in history.

My task in this Dialogue is to enunciate dilemmas for shared reflection on “security and care among activists”, and to do this, I believe it is necessary to return to the sense and historicity of the words, identifying their political and ideological connotations.

Security is a word of Latin origin, which signifies:

… “Without worries”, its etymology suggesting the sense of “looking after oneself” (se+gura) “… security and absence of risk, predictability, security for the future. (…) Security implies certainty that the future will repeat the present, or in the case of change, that meaning will be freely agreed to by its referents, whether the analysis is individual or from a group perspective. For this reason, we talk about confidence, guarantees, stability, and certainty; we speak of a series of measures the objective of which is the preservation of freedom and the struggle against any manifestation that may attempt to limit them[1] .

However, when we talk and think about security, we immediately associate its meaning with the role of the State in protecting and guaranteeing the integrity of the people and the nation. It is here where we encounter a total lack of State security, given the reality of these States which do not preserve our lives, our expression, and our freedom.

Along the same line as security, we find the word care, which also comes from Latin:

“…frequently associated with the verb “cogitare”, which has several meanings: to think, assume, and imagine. However, the verb originates from the noun “co-agitare” and takes on the meaning of “agitation of thought”, “stirring of the spirit” or “beginning to think about something”. In relation to the term to care for, one can likewise verify its approximation to the Latin noun “curare”, the meaning of which is associated with the idea of “to deal with”; “to pay attention to”[2].

Consequently, care and security are directly related, since care without security does not exist, and vice versa; both encompass thoughts and actions linked to the concept of curing.

The word care embraces ideological and historical meanings linked to patriarchy and slavery, affecting black and white women in a differentiated manner.

Black women and black men, kidnapped from the African continent during the period of slavery, assumed, and continue to assume in Brazil, the task of care givers, which resulted in leaving their loved ones without care, and as a result, without security. The “Casa Grande” (Big House), one of the places reserved for black women, has been transformed today into domestic work, but, according to the chronicles, marked by the same and continually reproduced precariousness and violence[3].

While racism ensures power and privileges for white folk, patriarchy ensures the same for the men. Historically, the role of maternity and care of other has been reserved for women, an example being those professions, socially-defined for us as women. So we come to understand this place as an articulation between racism and patriarchy.

The political engagement of Feminist Movements and Black Women’s Movements, which have encouraged the deconstruction of these roles and historically-constructed stereotypes have contributed to the conquest and occupation of different spaces in society.

During this session called “Dialogue Related to Security and Care among Activists”, we should note that this theme arose originally from research with more than 100 women Human Rights activists from around the world who talked about their fears, hopes, exhaustion, and love for political activity, compiled in the book[1]“What’s the Point of Revolution if We Can’t Dance?[4].

The book was published by the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights[5] in 2006, one of the ensuing, later developments being the articulation of a strategic action called “Sustainable Activism”, as well as an ethical and political wager at the Urgent Action Fund for Latin America, which has been refining and working on this issue, together with defenders from Central America and Colombia, for the last five years.

In Brazil, the main objective of the first “Workshop of Integrated and Sustainable Protection for Activists”, attended by 22 black women from 20 organizations from the north and north-east regions of the country, and based on the Urgent Action Fund for Latin America’s model[6], was to research the scars of racism.

In addition, during this workshop, black women had the opportunity to identify the risks of being a woman and black, correlating the various inter-sectionalities experienced in their lives.

In order to contemplate the security and care of activists, one must take into account that the exercise of defending women’s Human Rights, as practiced by activists, is work that:

  • Has neither a day nor an hour for beginning and ending.
  • Does not liberate us on weekends or during vacations.
  • Does not include days of rest, or holidays.
  • Is not healthy, since it places activists’ lives at risk.
  • Does not allow suffering without feeling guilty.
  • Does not provide social security guarantees, thereby, compromising the future.
  • Produces physical and emotional exhaustion, since it implies pressures and adversities in her own life as well as those from other women’s lives, the foundation of their work.

As a result, several major themes invite reflection, both among activists themselves, as well as within their organizations and international cooperation, pointing to the need to:

  • Construct spaces that provide security for activist women.
  • Take into account the emotional and psychic impact of political action undertaken by women.
  • Call attention to the mental health of activists, both within our organizations and in organizations that support women’s rights defenders.
  • Understand there are women who struggle 24 hours a day and that activism does not guarantee their security at the time when productivity decreases: old age.

It is very important to continue researching the risks of being a woman, lesbian, black, indigenous…and to create strategies to guarantee care and protection, taking such specificities into account.

Care, from a political perspective, is not only about looking after myself, but also about caring for the sisters in struggle; as well as understanding that the “capital” that must be preserved and qualitatively guaranteed, is the life of women defenders of women’s human rights.

Since we talk about a movement that is diverse, in order for the theme of activists’ care and security to be real, we must understand that racism is not only an issue for black and indigenous women. To confront racism implies working on our privileges (preserved through racism). This is the only way to eradicate it as a collective.

The motto of black activists is “Black Lives Matter” and could be applied to women activists in the following way: The Lives of Women Defenders of Women’s Human Rights Matter.

I would like to end with a citation from bell hooks when she says:

“When we, black women, experiment the transformative force of love in our lives, we take on attitudes to completely alter existing social structures (the emphasis is mine). As a result, we can accumulate the energies necessary to confront the genocide that kills so many black men, women and boys and girls on a daily basis. When we know love, when we love, it is possible to see the past through other eyes; it is possible to transform the present and to dream the future. This is the power of love. The best form of caring is Love”[7].

Affection is an extremely powerful instrument in the process of personal and collective transformation. It is necessary to include love as an instrument capable of completely altering existing social structures. Love cures.

By: Maria Lúcia Da Silva


[2]Ballarin, M.L.G.S., Carvalho, F. B. Ferigato, S. H. Los diferentes sentidos del cuidado: consideraciones sobre la atención en salud mental. El mundo de la salud SãoPaulo: 2009;33(2):218-224. http://www.saocamilo-sp.br/pdf/mundo_saude/67/218a224.pdf

[3]Veja depoimento de Preta Rara (Eu empregada doméstica) y Creuza Oliveira (Federación Nacional de las Empleadas Domésticas), presentes en este Diálogo en: https://www.facebook.com/pg/fundosocialelas/videos/

[4] Libro disponible en:: https://urgentactionfund.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/06/WTPR-in-Spanish1.pdf

[5] Frase prestada de Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940). Uma anarquista lituana, conocida por su activismo, sus escritos políticos y conferencias que reúnen miles de personas en los Estados Unidos. https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman

[6]El fondo de Acción Urgente por los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres es una organización independiente, sin fines de lucro, cuyo objetivo estratégico es proteger y promover los derechos humanos de las mujeres mediante financiamientos con un tiempo de respuesta rápida, iniciativas de colaboración, investigación y publicación.

[7]Realizada por el Fondo Elas - Programa “Desarrollo Institucional de las Organizaciones y Grupos de Mujeres y Niñas Negras del Nordeste de Brasil con financiamiento Kellog, en el periodo del 5 al 10 de abril de 2010, en Lauro de Freitas/BA.

[8] Bell Hooks . Vivendo de Amor. Traducción de Maísa Mendonça. http://www.geledes.org.br/vivendo-de- amor/#gs.qyyb6ds

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