How psychologists create safer and more inclusive spaces

By February 26, 2019 March 7th, 2019 Blog

The newly created IFF Community Wellness Team will be working closely with participants to take the development of safer, inclusive spaces to the next level.

The Internet Freedom Festival has been working on creating safer and more inclusive spaces for five years. Every year the tools and approaches we use evolve to meet the unique needs of our community.

We firmly believe that safer spaces need to be cultivated, and that’s why we have created the Internet Freedom Festival Community Wellness Team. Composed of three professional psychologists, the team will be helping us take the development of safer, inclusive spaces to the next level, through the creation of the necessary tools, guidelines and protocols.

A compilation of the tools, guidelines and protocols created by the IFF Community Wellness Team will be publicly released shortly after the 2019 Internet Freedom Festival.

Specifically, the IFF Community Wellness Team will be responsible for:

  • Helping the IFF team cultivate a positive culture that is focused on mutual dignity and respect.
  • Providing protocols and processes to handle code of conduct incident reports in a way that minimizes harm to the IFF participants, staff, and volunteers.
  • Providing one-on-one support to participants during the IFF.

Most importantly, the Community Wellness Team will be providing us with psychological expertise that will help us create healthier interactions and better understand ourselves as well as the psycho-social challenges we face as a community.

Why psychologists?

The IFF is a unique event because of our unique community, many of whom are on the frontlines of issues that push cultural and societal change. Oftentimes, this comes with a personal cost, which can manifest itself as burnout, interpersonal conflicts, or more serious outcomes.

In a 2012 report by the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, 100 activists from over 45 countries expressed the hardships of staying mentally and physically healthy in the face of so many daily risks and challenges. What they shared is reflective of many of the sentiments and needs expressed by members of the Internet Freedom community. This impacts community health, as well as the sustainability of activism itself.

For the IFF team, this means that any attempt at cultivating community must be done in manner that minimizes harm, and makes available those tools of support most needed by the community. In addition, it also reflects the developments in the field. The increase of psychosocial sessions in the 2019 program is a direct reflection of the growing recognition that is a vital component of security training and frontline work.

Notably, in the last year, the IFF has received community feedback through various initiatives, such as the Glitter Meetup, that clearly show that more IFF community members desire the assistance of trained psychologists to help with a variety of issues including:

  • Lack of individual therapy options because of privacy and security threats and cultural discrimination of using it in their home country, even though the need and desire is there. In addition, services are often unavailable or too expensive.
  • A significant percentage of community members are showing signs of PTSD because of their work.
  • High risk of burnout in various communities and desire for more information and support to practice self-care.
  • Having to serve as ad-hoc care givers in their community, and having no guidance or training on how to properly handle difficult situations presented to them.

While the IFF cannot address all these issues, we would like to help raise the awareness in the Internet Freedom community of why addressing and investing in the psychosocial is so crucial to our work.

The right match: Leaders in Sexual Rights

Given the uniqueness of our community, one of the biggest challenges was finding the right psychologists to work with us. We approached the Instituto Espill, which has more than 30 years of experience promoting psychological and sexual well-being, to lead this year’s IFF Community Wellness Team. The Instituto Espill staff members that will be joining us at the IFF are:

  • María Pérez Conchillo, PhD. is the co-founder and director of the Instituto Espill, is a clinical psychologist, and internationally awarded sexual rights activist, with over thirty years of work dedicated to the advancement of sexual health globally. She is a founding member of the Sexual Rights Committee that proclaimed Sexual Rights, while she was serving as the president of the 13th World Congress of Sexology in Valencia (Spain) in 1997. She has served twice as vice-president of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) (1997–2001 and 2013–2017).
  • Gerard Cebriá León is a psychologist with a Master’s in Sexual Health. He is also a web developer, and has a good understanding of some of the challenges found in the technological world.
  • Tamara Martínez Farinós is a psychologist with a Master’s in sexual health.

“We want to be a resource for groups around the world who want to create a better experience that promotes the well-being of participants in a community gathering.”
— Instituto Espill.

We believe that this team will not only provide the IFF team with the guidance needed to create a safer and more inclusive space, but will also help shift the culture of the Internet Freedom community — we want to move the community towards a future where investing in psychosocial care is a priority.

Also published on the Internet Freedom Festival Community Stories Medium Publication.