Taking the time to breathe

 

We all have times where we feel overwhelmed. Whatever your struggle, passion or duties may be, there can be moments that simply feel impossible. At times like these, to suggest that you should prioritise taking care of yourself seems ridiculous. But the truth is that self-care can make you stronger, sharper and more able to cope with whatever life throws at you. It’s not indulgent to invest in yourself.

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For me, my go-to self-care strategy is yoga. Yoga acts like a ‘pause’ button on a life that often feels like it’s on fast-forward. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the honour of working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust staff who have been creating space in their schedules to practice yoga together. Strength, flexibility, balance: all the elements we work towards in yoga are also useful for a successful day in the office. And by letting go of tension before it builds up, we are more resilient to external stresses.

Stress comes from many sources. Every headline can be a cause for concern. Local, national and international news make us feel like everyone should be in a constant state of anxiety. Droughts and fires make is seem as though even the natural elements want us to be in a heightened state of nerves. Even positive events can see activists working overtime coordinating campaigns. And all this on top of daily concerns: caring duties, money worries, household responsibilities.

It’s not unusual for these burdens to be particularly heavy for women, who often bear the duty of care for others, as well as the weight of disproportionate impact from the negative political or economic changes that dominate the news. As such it can be especially hard for women to carve out the time needed to care for themselves. Yet self-care is important for building the mental, physical and emotional energy we all need to flourish.

Self-care can be anything that helps you feel more like yourself: chatting with friends, getting a massage, reading a detective novel. Your strategy could be something that makes you laugh, or relax, or feel energised. I like yoga because it reminds me to be entirely in the present, instead of worrying about what happened earlier or what’s going to happen later. I close my eyes, breathe into my belly, and unclench my jaw. In doing so I begin to unwind.

The staff at Rape Crisis work exceptionally hard, in challenging conditions. It would be understandable if they felt that their work is too important to take a break from, their cause too pressing to pause. But for an hour a week, they’re taking the time to reconnect with their breath and their bodies, and in doing so they’re practising more than just yoga. Their practising an approach to self-care that hopefully leaves them more resilient to stress and more able to focus.

Whether you’re fighting the patriarchy or fighting fatigue, take a moment to reflect on what you need to renew yourself to continue giving it your all. Nobody benefits if an activist burns out, and right now we need as much positive energy as we can muster. Self-care is a strategy to strengthen your cause as well as yourself.

 

Rose Longhurst0e0ed89

Rose has extensive experience working in international fundraising, advocacy and development. She currently lives in the UK and is passionate about human rights and social justice work. She is also a qualified yoga teacher.

Rape does not start in the bedroom

She wants to run but has nowhere to go. She wants to scream but has no voice. She wants to cry but has no tears. She is alone. Walls. Walls. That’s all she has. Four walls surrounding her, covered in cracks and mould. No picture frames. No light. Just walls. She lies curled up on a worn-out mattress and clutches her knees to her chest. The mattress smells like him. Her stomach churns and she chooses to lie on her back. She hates his scent. She tries not to focus on the smell and instead focuses on listening. There is a faint rustling of leaves outside and the occasional humming of birds but aside from that, there is silence.

But silence on the outside does not escape her from the agonising noises inside her head. Her inner screams, cries for help, voices of desperate longing and praying that he won’t come back. Her thoughts about him come in like a cancerous invasion. Every time she tries to take control of her mind and think of something different, those thoughts come back stronger and multiply. They haunt her. They never leave her alone.

The door suddenly latches open and makes her jump. She quickly turns around and prepares herself for what she already knows is going to happen. Her nose is hit by a strong stench of beer. She remains completely silent. She does not scream. She does not cry out for help. The only sound she can hear are those agonizing screams inside her head. Those agonising screams which become louder and louder as he drops his beer to the floor and pulls down his zip. He’s back.

Raping someone is not a spontaneous act, but a preconceived plan. Rape is not caused by alcoholism or drug intoxication or being part of a gang; it is caused by a person feeding their mind with inappropriate sexual thoughts. Rape is not just sex, it is violence. Violation. Power. Dominance. Control. Hatred. It does not start in the bedroom, it starts in a person’s mind. It is not a sudden moment of irrational thinking, it is a well-thought out decision. A person who chooses to rape has fantasized about rape long before they choose to do it. No, you cannot blame a woman because she is wearing provocative clothing. No, you cannot blame a little girl for taking a different route to get home late at night. No, you cannot blame a male victim for being in a prison cell full of other sex-hungry men. No, you cannot blame a homosexual person for choosing to love a person of the same sex as them. No, you cannot blame her because she is a prostitute. No, you cannot blame a wife for disobeying her husband. No you cannot get away with rape because you have good manners. No you cannot get away with rape because you’re a doctor, or a priest, or a family man. There is no situation in this world which makes rape okay, no person in this world who “deserves what he/she got”, no rapist in this world who deserves to get away with what they’ve done.

So what is the solution? How do we stop this sexual violence from happening? How do we create a society which will not tolerate rape under any circumstances? Maybe we could create awareness.  Maybe we could stop drug trafficking. Maybe we could prohibit alcohol. Maybe we could create safety procedures and protection services for those who are at risk of being raped. Maybe we could imprison rapists. These are all effective ways of reducing the instances of rape, but there is only one thing which can prevent rape.

The tongue.

The tongue is a very powerful tool. We can all control what we say, how we say it, who we say it to. Rape does not start in the bedroom. It starts with language. How are we talking about women? Are we sexualising their bodies or treating them with respect? Are we condoning sexual violence or condemning it? Are we discussing rape as a sign of strength and “machismo” or a sign of weakness? Are you talking to women as though they’re you’re equals or your inferiors? Are we saying that rape is justified if a person has a different sexual preference to us?

“She is my wife and she disobeyed me, she needs discipline man! I can’t just allow a person to get away with not listening to me, especially if she is a woman!”

“That chick deserved what she got. What was she thinking walking down an alleyway by herself? And she was basically wearing underwear!”

“Why do these women gott’ complain man? These days they always want to be stronger and better than a man. But they will never be better. The man is always above the woman under my roof.”

The tongue.

Let’s challenge rape culture by controlling our language about rape, sexual assault, harassment, violence, women and children. Let’s create a community where any human being can walk home and feel safe no matter what time they’re going home. Let’s create a community where rape is not tolerated. And let’s certainly create a community where rapists are not tolerated either. Let’s build a culture of consent by remembering where rape starts.

 

Lauren Pechey                                                          

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Lauren is currently studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town which has allowed her to put her heart and soul into understanding people, rape culture, gendered violence and women studies. She believes that every experience of womanhood is unique and intricately linked to one’s background, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age and so on. She hopes to continue to speak out against gendered oppression and to one day provide adequate support to to people from all walks of life who have been victims of it