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Self Care & Body Empowerment

Self-Care Conversations Side-Step This Critical Question

When women and gender-diverse people don’t have a foundation of safety, how can they practice self-care?

When you hear the term “self-care”, what comes to mind? 

Mainstream self-care conversations often focus on escape, pampering, or Instagram-worthy experiences. It’s understandable. We all deserve time to tune out reality and treat ourselves.  

But there’s a difficult reality we do need to acknowledge in self-care conversations: When you face the disproportionate risk of abuse and harassment that women and gender-diverse people do, self-care may seem unattainable. In fact, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs theorizes that establishing safety is a pre-requisite for meeting needs including love, self-esteem, and self-actualization. So how can we have the capacity for self-care when the foundation of safety isn’t there? 

Inclusive, feminist self-care conversations need to highlight that we all deserve to feel loved and cared for – despite the experiences and barriers that may make us feel unsafe and unworthy. Effective self-care practices must acknowledge the daily threat of  gender-based abuse and harassment – online and off:  

  • In Canada, 44 percent of women – close to half – have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.  
  • Every two days in this country, a woman or girl is killed by violence.  
  • One in five women in Canada experience online harassment. 

Fear of encountering gender-based violence impacts our ability to feel safe in our bodies, our homes, and the outside world. We may limit our movements, actions, and voices to protect ourselves. When these barriers are layered with other forms of discrimination – racism, colonialism, ableism, ageism – navigating reality becomes even more complex.  

But when we give ourselves time and space to evaluate the gendered root causes of our stress and barriers, we can better decide what acts will assuage our needs, what we have the power to change, and where we can find the strength and support to move forward. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,” wrote Black feminist author and activist Audre Lorde, “and that is an act of political warfare.” 

So, what do accessible, feminist self-care practices look like? A few starting points: 

  • Give yourself permission: Recognize that you can give yourself permission for any self-care practices that work for you. It could be permission to stop what you’re doing and breathe, to talk to yourself as you would your best friend, to feel all your emotions, to love your body, to trust your decisions, or to laugh every day. 
  • Ask for help without guilt: Chances are, you don’t mind helping others. Many of us enjoy the sense of connection it brings. So, recognize that it’s healthy for you to ask others to share your burdens as well. Reaching out for support can strengthen your sense of safety, and from a place of safety, we have more capacity to practice self-care.

  • Connect with communities of care: When we live in a context of systemic discrimination and abuse, it’s easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed by personal and social justice issues. Getting involved with communities that offer formal or informal support, or that are working for social change can help create new self-care opportunities and practices. Becoming part of a community kitchen or garden, a peer support group, or social justice organization also helps build a network of safety and support.  

At the Canadian Women’s Foundation, we are working to create a culture of safety and support for those facing abuse or violence through the Signal for Help Responder initiative. All of us can play a role in preventing gender-based violence by simply understanding the signs and learning to have stigma-free conversations about abuse.

By signing up to become a Signal for Help Responder today, you receive free access to the downloadable action guide and online mini course. The community is already 59,000 people strong, but we need a critical mass to learn these potentially life-saving skills and make this cultural shift on gender-based violence.

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