In Sub Saharan Africa, the role of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to challenge governments and powerfully entrenched social systems can be controversial, very confrontational and costly especially when it comes to issues concerning LGBT rights. Here, activism often becomes riskier and more problematic since homosexuality is widely illegal in most countries like Uganda. However, HRDs choose to persevere in activism with no show of weakness even though it is mentally demanding and physically exhausting. The pressures to challenge beliefs, break myths and taboos faced by minorities tends to pile up and take a toll on human rights advocates.
The Legal and Protection Officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda, Douglas Mawadri states in an article “Fighting Stigma: Protecting The Mental Health of African Rights Activists” shared in Bombastic Magazine (2016) that, "Human Rights Workers, who are supposed to be pillars of strength and warriors for the most vulnerable, cannot appear weak or unstable in regions where many people already view human rights as foreign or opposed to traditional African culture." Well as some HRDs have actually lost their lives in pursuit for equality and nondiscrimination for all, those still alive in the struggle are clouded by hate crimes, threats of death, imprisonment, criminal prosecutions and being outed by media. The fear of the living with the possibility of all these happenings affects their physical, social and emotional well-being. If not checked, the impacts can result into chronic stress, severe anxiety, trauma and burnouts which can be detrimental to the HRD's life, performance and productivity during their work in activism.
A number of HRDs also lack a proper social support system as they are frequently away from home either on travel to fulfill work demands or hiding because they are under threat. Such conditions are not viable to build a proper strong support system. This forces some HRDs to keep their daily challenges to themselves since they can't easily open up to people willing to share their fears and challenges. They would rather opt to live in isolation, making them more vulnerable to extreme mental harm.
The work of Human Rights Advocates is indispensable and hence their real life struggles can't be ignored. That's why there is a need to consider establishment of regular programs that can address issues of stress and other related mental health issues. The idea of a social support network comprising of friends and family can be helpful during times of extreme burnouts. This support system can enable HRDs to gain a positive attitude towards their struggles and empower them with a willingness to embrace challenges with humor, control, confidence and perseverance which will in turn make stress tolerable for them.
Self-care should also be encouraged even though it won't completely eliminate all tensions. However, the suggested measures can minimize stress which makes it manageable in the daily life of HRDs. Regular exercises, meditation, yoga, plenty of sleep and a healthy balanced diet will keep them HRDs relaxed, productive and emotionally balanced. Also a safe trusted space that can offer counselling sessions to HRDs can be a strategy that will encourage them to seek for help as a factor of resilience rather than weakness. It will also raise awareness that good mental health actually contributes to better productivity and performance of any HRD in the fight for equal and nondiscriminatory human rights.