This year, the International Women’s Day theme is: #EachforEqual. It has been 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action aimed to “remove the systemic barriers holding women back from equal participation in all areas of life, whether in public or in private.”

The theme advocates for “gender-equal government, workplaces, sports and media coverage, gender equality in health and wealth.” While we know that the change for achieving equal freedom to choose and have equal opportunities for women, equal pay and equal sharing of unpaid domestic work and care remains rather slow; it’s useful to go back to the basics.

This International Women’s Day, let’s reflect upon what celebrating women’s day really means at a self-level.

As we contemplate and explore what has improved and what still needs to change in this regard, one thing that still is a deeply intrinsic ongoing struggle for women, is lack of self-empathy and self-care.

Some of us have the privilege to celebrate this day in cafes and events; however, it’s very important to think about so many women out there who don’t even have the luxury to think of ‘the-self’. This includes our mothers, relatives, neighbors who we see working hard day-in and day-out, finishing the household chores religiously, with no access to  —  smartphones or internet sometimes, empowered new ways of socialization, psychosocial support or safe spaces to express; yet bravely fighting through regular challenges in life that come with the chaos and conflicts around us.

I’m aware that some women won’t have access to the medium I’m writing through.

However, this is all the more reason why I feel we, as women and men, who have some access, some privilege, and some safe space, need to collaboratively spread this awareness in different circles, starting from our own homes. And that’s the difference we all can make as individuals, for a less unfair world, enabling each other to be more empowered; hence, contributing to this International Women’s Day theme collectively. Together, we can challenge the gender-biased norms, stereotypes and culture; and help create a safer and compassionate space for everyone to be a part of.

Firstly, I can’t emphasize enough how essential self-empathy, care, and inner healing is, regardless of gender. However, as women, we end up giving so much of ourselves to others that self-care is almost thought to be selfish. We feel guilty to receive or to focus on our own care, most of the time. And as our natural instinct to nurture others and be the caregivers, we sometimes normalize a lot of toxic behavior of others, thinking “if we don’t understand them and their behavior, who will?” These people might not use obvious harsh or abusive language towards you but will subtly choose when they want to be present or absent in your life, making you feel like you need to keep working harder to deserve the care from them. This can make you accept any toxic unhealthy behavior and space, which may not even be aligned with your values; affecting your self-esteem, dignity and understanding of love and care. This is more common than you can imagine and happens often in families, friendships, and other relationships.

It might be difficult but it all can change the moment you prioritize yourself, your care; and deeply begin to understand that one can only empathize and nurture others, when they do it for themselves first. It will just naturally flow through you to others then. And for this to happen, having healthy boundaries and space for yourself in every relationship is critical. Learning to say No and standing up for yourself is sometimes seen as culturally disrespectful but is so very crucial for basic self-care. Self-healing, taking time off, being conscious about where and with whom you are sharing your energy with, is important. Finding ways to express your emotions in healthy ways and building emotional awareness is important for overall wellbeing and mental health. Yes, even professionals in mental health and psychological support need healing; sometimes, more than others because of the enormity, intensity, intimacy of people’s pain that they work with regularly.

Self-care

is knowing

when to tune in and when to tune out;

when to be a part of the crowd and when to embrace your solitude;

when to make yourself vulnerable to energies out there and when to let yourself heal in silence;

when to listen to others and when to listen to your soul;

when to absorb all the vibes and when to empty yourself;

when to be a safe space for others and when to be your own safe space.

Secondly, I would urge all women to be women of unconventional dreams, passion, strong-will, hard-work and determination. It’s not easy but it’s important. Marriage may be critical for you but don’t build your lives and all of your identity only around marriage. Find out who you are first and what your heart beats for, and go after that with all you can. Don’t let others define your existence. Be your own person. Travel as much as you can, even if it is in your own district or state or neighborhood or an unexplored part of your own soul —  and travel alone so that you learn more about your inner strength and courage. And if possible, create your own home, your own space — the pieces of which you can design yourself — it’s a different level of empowerment to own your own space, to have your own home, internally and externally. 

Take out time to let yourself Be today (and daily). Do something fun today to remind yourself that you deserve all that love that you freely give to others — because you are worth it!

Question, if I may:

In what ways, can you facilitate self-care to create safe-space for yourself, with yourself, in your daily lives? 

Ufra Mir is the first and only peace-psychologist from Kashmir. She is the co-director of The Kashmir Institute, a non-partisan think-tank focused on research and dialogue to impact public policy; along with being the founding executive director of her own NGO, Paigaam: A Message for Peace.

The comment appeared in our 9-15 March 2020 print edition.

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