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Work Diaries: Reflections from a Young Feminist on Activist Burnout

Source: Brownie

Fatma Emam is a young feminist activist working on women’s rights in Cairo, Egypt. She is lead researcher of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a young feminist-led research organization seeking to highlight a younger voice within the human rights and feminist movements in Egypt.

Brownie is Fatma’s blog which she updates regularly with news and reflections on young feminist activism in the Arab world. The piece below is from her blog which she is sharing with the Young Feminist Wire Community hoping that it will resonate with other activists. Your comments and thoughts are welcome!


Friday, August 6, 2010

I have been thinking a lot about my career lately as major changes take place around me: my organization (Nazra for feminist studies) is finally in action and is implementing several projects in fully swing. Although I have been waiting for this for a long time and we, the Nazra team, have overcome many difficulties and worked really hard to reach this point, I find that my happiness is still incomplete. The reason is not the usual obstacles we face like government bureaucracy, security constraints or societal backlash to any feminist activism, but is much more personal than that.

I feel bad because I am losing passion; I am working with no motivation. All the things that used to inspire me seem ineffective and sometimes even do not have the same meaning it used to have. This feeling was my greatest fear; that I will be working not for a cause but as a practitioner who seeks secure employment and revenue. I do not like anything I am doing. I hate being busy with logistics and administrative or publicity tasks. I also do not have any motivation to do the tasks that I love doing most like research and writing.

I am aware that when your endeavor is a long winding road that it is natural to lose direction or passion, however this experience is really tiring me and is raising many questions in my head. I find what I am feeling very strange because I am not mid-career or well established to justify feeling bored or lacking in motivation. Moreover, I am working within a structure that I not only chose but also participated in its creation; it is my safety zone. I also still have many goals I want to achieve and ideas I want to implement.

Currently, I feel like I am only seeing the empty portion of the glass; the problems are magnified and I can not see anything beyond them. I do not need talks about the feminist cause and the difficulties we should anticipate or talks about thinking positively. I want to feel the same passion and feelings when we first started.

I know that the fundamental difference between an activist and a practitioner is the passion of the activist, and that is what I am currently lacking. I do not have any solutions and I do not know when these feelings will go away, all I know is that I really want to wake up in the morning feeling rejuvenated again with a fresh mind and a cheerful spirit, ready to make a difference.

4 thoughts on “Work Diaries: Reflections from a Young Feminist on Activist Burnout”

  1. Linda says:

    Hey Fatma, it has been a very long day on my end keeping this candle alight; I too feel tired if not discouraged, but neither those who won’t spare me a few minutes to present before you what the women have said nor those who cut their fingers like a pair of scissors fearing the meaningful progress being made with and without their support can blow off the renewed motivation that reading your thoughts has replenished. I remember why I am tired today, but I sleep easy for I need to keep up with the lot in me that will begin tomorrow with greater resolve. Sometimes the revenues are only there to bring you that one smile to shed some light in those often dark tunnels to carry on if not simply sustain you. So for you, I dedicate ‘Sisters I live it’ on my blog!

  2. Elea says:

    I truly appreciated reading your honest words. Exposing your feelings as you have takes such courage and you have touched another ( and I am sure many others) across the globe through your honesty and efforts. Finding pleasure in the smallest action is what helps me. Such as making a ritual of drinking ones tea. Witnessing the beauty in a flower or another persons smile when we ourselves smile. We are not alone. Thank You again for all the work that you do that is the very essence of your passion.

  3. Megan says:

    I recently went through a bad artist’s block and was lacking the drive and passion that kept me enthused and driven with focus towards my goals – long and short term. Centering is a very important tool to grasp and becoming conscious of the experience and of the experience of life around me. Centering can be meditation, walking, painting, music, cooking, yoga…whatever it is or begin to try one of the above activities to see if there’s a potential there for a centering device. Once you’ve got that down it’s easier to plug into those passionate energies that fueled your fire for so long. If none of these works and you’re still uneasy within your career perhaps it’s time for a self- evaluation? Good luck!

  4. Purity Kagwiria says:

    The last couple of weeks I’ve also had a lack of motivation which results to getting late and being lethargic at work; been thinking that perhaps its a sign of the inevitable job change in the coming new year or so. That not withstanding I am finding my mojo in blogging my simple thoughts and trying (very hard) to wake up a bit early in the morning to have some ‘me’ time. I am also starting to read work by women and men who have been before, therefore feeding my mind with new information. This I hope will help me find direction, motivation and inspiration.

    I believe sometimes it is okay to get tired of the normal in order to seek that which would otherwise be lost when we are caught up in ‘life’

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