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  The Feminist Principle of
Safety

 

 

The Feminist Principle of Safety


The feminist principle of safety is essential to the development of healthy, inclusive organizations. As feminists, we work to create caring and supportive environments that promote our emotional and physical safety. The feminist principle of safety applies to all organizational practices and processes, and underlies much of what the women’s equality movement is all about.

The feminist principle of safety means we are committed, as women and organizations, to creating environments where all women feel comfortable and safe to participate in our work toward equality. We build safety through healthy practices of inclusion, respect, selfcare
and confidentiality.

When we talk about safety in terms of how our members treat one other, or how our meetings and decision-making processes are structured, we mean those internal practices and processes that are fair and inclusive. These enable us to express our ideas and opinions, and to challenge each other in ways that are respectful and
healthy.

“Yes, it is important to feel safe with our feminist friends, but whether we are talking to another feminist or a woman with whom we share little in common, we must continue to make points, not score them, and build bridges, not burn them.”

~ Dorothy Inglis



The feminist principle of safety means that we individually and collectively encourage the full participation of women within our organizations by fostering environments that are healthy, empowering, educational and confidential. All women should expect to feel safe, accepted and included when they walk through our doors.
An Aboriginal woman should expect that her questions and contributions will be welcomed and validated, as should a single mother, a senior, a woman with a disability, a lesbian woman, or any other woman. Feminist organizations should always be safe places for women to share and participate without their words being minimized, or their stories being retold in the community.

The feminist practice of safety is about developing respectful, fair and inclusive processes through which our members and others can effectively work together to fulfill the mandate of our organizations. This means we accept our own and others’ mistakes, and provide opportunities to learn from these mistakes while leaving the blame behind. For example, a woman new to feminism might assume during conversation that all women within our group are heterosexual. Rather than halting the conversation, we can use this opportunity to educate her about women’s systemic discrimination by gently challenging her assumption. We create an environment of safety when we treat each other with acceptance and respect, and celebrate the diversity of background and experience among us. Through practices such as consensus-building, shared leadership and decision-making, mentoring, conflict resolution, and celebration, we build healthy, participatory equality-seeking organizations.

As feminists, we need to be aware and vigilant of building organizations without boundaries, places that seem safer and more inviting on the surface than they could be in reality. For example, women may feel a false sense of security because of the caring and validating environment we have created. We may disclose information about our private lives and later regret sharing our stories, or wish we had done so in a more appropriate setting. Unless we are careful, we could find ourselves in the position of taking liberty with each other’s personal stories without taking care of each other. Women who choose to identify personal experiences during discussions must acknowledge that doing so is not without some personal risk. We need to establish boundaries with each other and find ways of discussing personal circumstances that are healthy for individual women and our organizations.

As individual women, we should consider how we are accountable for our individual and collective safety within our organizations. We should assume that in any feminist organization women who are survivors are present. We should also assume that women have healthy strategies for dealing with personal issues. These strategies may include choosing to speak at particular times, taking a time out, calling a friend following the discussion, or seeking professional assistance. As members of feminist equality-seeking organizations, we should encourage each other to practice self-care by drawing on these strategies if we experience discomfort when discussing or relating to a personal experience.

As feminists, we have an individual and collective responsibility to act in ways that promote safety and inclusion at all times. Unless we are vigilant, struggles such as lack of adequate staff and resources, unclear roles and responsibilities, and disrespectful or intolerant attitudes and behaviours may contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere for women – despite the best of intentions. Our challenge is to build healthy feminist organizations where all women feel comfortable to voice their ideas and opinions, share stories and experiences, mentor and learn from each other, and seek information and assistance. The nature of our work presents many opportunities to discuss issues and strategies with members, and consult with other women on a regular basis. When we make the most of these opportunities, and demonstrate our commitment to feminist principles and practices, we advance our agenda for women’s equality and inclusion.

“ I am an Inuit woman from Labrador. And have been coming to meetings with women for over thirty years. This is the first time that I have really felt listened to. And the first time I have felt a part of Newfoundland.”

~ Silpa Edmunds

 

Scenario

The Feminist Principle of Safety

Kelly is a new member of an equality-seeking organization. During a discussion on violence against women, Kelly disclosed past abuse at the hands of her partner. A short while later at a social gathering, Kelly learns that her story has been retold by Cindy, another member of the organization.

  1. Has this organization become unsafe? Why or why not?
  2. How far are we responsible for our individual safety within our group? For our collective safety as a group?
  3. What practices might this organization adopt to ensure members who wish to speak about personal experiences feel included, safe and validated?

 

Workshop Questions

The Feminist Principle of
Safety

  • What does it mean to feel safe and included in an equality-seeking organization?
  • What practices should individual members use to contribute to our own safety within our
    organization? To the safety of other members?
  • What practices could our organization adopt to ensure that women feel safe and included?

 

 

source: PACSW pdf document (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

 

 

 

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Page last updated July 20, 2003