Umunyana Rugege on Planning Your Joy

February 28, 2020
3 min read

Umunyana Rugege is the executive director of Section 27, a social justice law centre that has handled some of South Africa’s landmark legal cases. Here she tells The Thread how she plans her joy and for insights from other women in The Thread community. 

Within the office, as a leader of an organisation with national importance, how do you ensure that you don’t suffer from burnout, and how do you stay energised?
I think this is such an important issue. We place a lot of value on the mental health of our people. As human rights activists, we put a lot of ourselves into our work and really live and breathe the work, especially at times of intensity like when we are in court defending the rights of vulnerable people. I encourage our teams to utilise psychosocial services, that we pay for, and we hold burnout sessions with an expert.

The purpose is to equip us with the tools necessary to recognise and deal with burnout in ourselves and each other. I personally also take time off to re-energise. Down time with my partner is the best. Whether we travel somewhere, exploring new places or we are at home.

Calling out in sexism when I encounter it and being a positive role model in any way that I can.

Women often feel that they need to earn their “me-time”. Do you feel like you need to tick items off your to-do list before you take some time for yourself?
The to-do list is never ending! I think there is real value in scheduling in the time for yourself. I put my Pilates and yoga sessions into my work calendar to make sure that I have no excuses to prioritise work over my exercise, which I view as self care.

Some academics argue that men have historically been allowed uninterrupted (alone) time to develop their genius. Do you  ever wonder what would happened if Shakespeare was a female?
The patriarchy is real and deeply felt in every aspect of our lives. There is no question about that. the issue is what we do on a daily basis to address inequality between the sexes, keeping in mind that gender is a broad and nuanced concept and that sexual minorities must also feature in our response to patriarchy. I think about this in my work, in advancing rights to health and basic education where we try to address legal barriers to equality, but also in other spaces and in my life, calling out in sexism when I encounter it and being a positive role model in any way that I can.

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