Self-care and social change: a personal reflection

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During the current pandemic, self (and social) care are more important than ever. Whilst its importance cannot be underestimated, the concept of self-care has not been an easy one for feminism as a movement to grapple with. As someone who has dedicated her life to creating systemic change for women and children, Fiona McCormack reflects on her own personal and professional struggles with self-care.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde’s famous quote resonates well with me. It means different things to people, depending on your level of privilege. In our sector, it is something we are constantly confronting.

On a pragmatic level, part of the challenge of self-care for people working in small non-government organisations is that they are funded at rates not aligned with self-care. The administrative costs of running an organisation are often not included in funding. Money needs to go to service delivery but the reality is, in order to support staff to deliver those objectives, you need a certain amount of administrative capacity. Without that, keeping a work-life balance becomes an enormous challenge.

Because our sector is highly gendered there’s been an expectation that, as women and carers, we can work until we completely deplete ourselves. That doesn’t wash with me. We’ve got to care for ourselves.

How have you held the space and care for yourself whilst advocating to end family violence?

Personally, self-care has been a real challenge. Early in my career I experienced a lot of stress public speaking, doing media and having challenging conversations with politicians and public servants. My anxiety and stress were related to being negatively perceived by others, about making a fool of myself. What helped me manage those stress levels was to think:

“This isn’t about me. I have a responsibility to be a voice for women and children who don’t have a voice. What would they want me to say on their behalf? What can’t they say for themselves?”

This would take me out of myself and give me hope and the courage to say things I’d never be able to say on my own behalf.

How does leadership and organisational culture and values impact on self-care?

“We have a responsibility to ensure safe and respectful workplaces where people are supported, where it’s safe to fail, where it’s safe to learn and where we don’t have to be perfect.”

What’s really critical is that we focus on the responsibility we have to those who experience violence at much higher rates because of the barriers that discriminate beyond gender. We can’t do that work externally with credibility if we’re not walking the talk internally in how we operate and treat one another.

I am really proud of the values we carried at Domestic Violence Victoria – values that have been contributed to by all the women worked there. It’s wonderful to have worked in an organisation where you’re able to live and embody the values you hold dear.

What self-care words of advice can you share?

Make a real commitment to being disciplined about your work habits is crucial. It’s not easy!

Work collaboratively and support one another. That’s been one of my biggest learnings. The reality is, no one person can achieve anything.

“We need one another and we need all of our collective skills and knowledge to effect change.”

Now more than ever.

This article features in the December 2019 edition of The Advocate.


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