Rest as a Form of Social Justice in Our Movements

So much has been said about rest, we understand that rest is political. That it is a resource that replenishes us, supports us to transition from surviving to thriving, and enables us to honour our movements and ourselves. But why is it so hard to rest?

Rest is an act of centring one’s wellbeing. It is a radical intentional act of ensuring our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional wellness.

As movement-builders for violence against women and girls (VAWG) prevention, we have witnessed how forms of vicarious trauma, cultures of self-sacrifice and overworking, unjust organisational and sectoral practices, urgency addiction, and structural violence have stifled our attempts to embody rest as a social justice practice. We are also cognisant of the impact of grind culture and aspirations to be ‘booked and busy’ on our practices of rest, illuminating the intersectional dynamics that shape our pathways to rest.

By politicising rest, we can acknowledge the role that power and privilege plays in shaping differing access to rest. For example, those with privilege on the basis of class, race, gender, nationality, education or ability might have multiple pathways to access rest, and therefore, may face less resistance in embodying it in their lives in comparison to others. Furthermore, politicising rest encourages us to locate it within conversations around collective and structural care, which speaks to the ways we embed and institutionalise rest (and broader forms of care and well-being) into our work, organisations, collectives, and the systems that shape our lives. Critically, it ensures, as Wilson, Scheepers and Wagener argue, that we are not proposing individual solutions to systemic challenges.

We are mindful that it is difficult to rest under capitalism and all the other ‘isms’ that shape our experiences of injustice and inequality. These conditions further narratives that instrumentalise our humanity – constantly pushing us to look at our bodies as tools for production rather than amazing vessels that we live and experience life in – this is why Rest is Resistance. Like any resistance, it goes against the grain to cultivate new possibilities. However, when we do, we create new patterns of organising and living that enable us to experience rest as a form of justice in our movements – and in the world.

The GBV Prevention Network ran a campaign last year, on Rest: Our Collective Resistance, for 16 Days of Activism. Together, we learnt a few things from the members who participated in the campaign:

  • Rest is only possible if we are intentional about it. Many members were able to rest because they planned and set aside a few activities for each day like; journaling, Zumba, nap time, etc.
  • It actually works! Some of the members noted how surprised they were that after intentionally trying to rest, they felt more at ease and more productive.
  • It is not possible for us to rest or care for ourselves, on our own, without collective care and support from our different communities, like work, family, etc.

“Indeed, our movements are born out of resistance to the forces and forms of power that dominate, subordinate and oppress, and it is this kind of power we equip ourselves to challenge and transform when we nurture and nourish our organisations and movements through [collective] care and wellbeing” – Hope & Rudo Chigudu

Rest is fundamental and at the core of our movements, ultimately, we should all be able to put down our tools and bask in ourselves. For movements, rest is not only important to individuals who are able to be more productive when well rested, but to the collective. A rested collective is more consolidated, healthy, creative and moving at the speed of trust.

We often talk about rest in terms of productivity, but we need to start to think about it more in terms of social justice, honour, liberation, respect, and care for others and ourselves. The common goal for all of our movements is to advance justice, and rest is a form of justice. Rest is among the ultimate goals for our movements, enabling us to cultivate visions of wellbeing, healing, wholeness, abundance, and doing less as part of our organising for social justice.

By seeing rest as a form of social justice in our movements, we are also encouraged to explore how our movement building might be linked to trauma organising. Trauma organising, as defined by Sandy Bloom, refers to instances when “an individual, family, organisation, system, or culture becomes fundamentally and unconsciously organised around the impact of chronic and toxic stress, even when this undermines its adaptive ability”. For us, trauma organising illuminates that systems and movements can be wounded, but more critically, that rest and healing provide critical invitations to organise differently (and perhaps, more justly) in our efforts to end VAWG and realise social justice.

Therefore, it’s key that we move away from thinking about rest just from an individual perspective but as a collective. How might we do this? Here are some tips:

  • Infuse self and collective care activities within all aspects of our work, for example, including time for meditation, naps, and play.
  • Explore different ways to integrate rest into our ways of working. This could include considering shorter workweeks, better managing our time boundaries, and creating spaciousness in our scheduling and work calendars. Integrate rest priorities into strategic and annual plans, allocating resources (both financial and non-financial) to support its realisation. This could include advocating to donors for more flexible expectations and more funding for rest.
  • Be more mindful of the distribution of work within the movement. Share power, tasks, responsibilities and decision-making. If you are in a managerial or leadership role, frequently check in on colleagues to discuss workload and how responsibilities might be shared or lessened. Leverage your positional power to cultivate cultures of care and rest, as noted in the SVRI’s Evidence Review.
  • Fair pay for the work everyone does in the movement. Often women doing movement-building are expected to do more volunteering and expect low pay while men who are hired to do this work are often paid more, replicating the same hierarchies and injustices we are trying to do away with. Explore the possibilities of including medical/health insurance, pension or retirement funds, collective care fund, and other modalities into the remuneration packages of those working in the field.
  • Implement policies and build structures that make it possible for everyone to rest. For example, fair leave policies and organisational ‘shut downs’ where the ‘office’ closes for a period of time to support rest and moments of pause.
  • We need to do more trust-based collaborations. If we work together across movements, we are able to do more without replicating efforts and feeling drained. We also acknowledge that building effective partnerships takes time, and requires significant investment to build trust and reciprocity.

It is essential that we don’t feel guilty for not resting; we can start where we are now. Even from a collective perspective, we can chart our just transition to rest and wellbeing. Resting and making time for ourselves and infusing this into the movement can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Rest is one of the ‘new’ frontiers of our organising – will we seize this opportunity to embody the joy, health and freedom we long to see in the world?


by Lucky Kobugabe and Iris Nxumalo-De Smidt, African Feminists contributing to movement building with The GBV Prevention Network and COFEM