What is awareness?
Awareness describes an approach of mindfulness when dealing with each other and an awareness of one’s own and others’ boundaries. The awareness approach does not come from theory but from practice: it was developed by victims of discrimination and (sexualised) violence and their allies. As experts on their own experiences, they created a common attitude that arose from the knowledge of power relations.
Many know this: the evening in the club starts well and is abruptly ended by an unpleasant experience. The festival becomes a test of patience instead of the highlight of the summer.
This is often due to experiences of discrimination and violence. Crossing boundaries like being groped, racist slurs, stigmatising looks, exclusion of people with disabilities, toilets that are only allowed for binary genders – all this is discrimination and violence. Such experiences can occur not only at events, but also within one’s own organisation or political network.
To counter this, the awareness approach was developed in Germany in 2007 out of the queer feminist movement.
This approach includes the creation of support services and the establishment of awareness crews. Hereby, the well-being of those affected is always in the centre. This includes not leaving those affected alone with discrimination and violence and providing them with partisan support – if they wish. The awareness approach further invites all people to engage in reflection processes. Because awareness can only really be implemented if we all participate and try to become more mindful of ourselves and how we treat each other. This includes, among other things, dealing with structural and interpersonal violence, but also learning practical, solidary and supportive action. Awareness also has an emancipating effect on the organisers, guests and organisational structures.
In some communities, awareness is offered together with reflective work and transformative work with perpetrators of violence following the approach of community accountability.
In recent years, awareness has grown beyond the political/social movements and is becoming broadly popular for various social events – this is a great success! At the same time however, it means that many providers are neither really familiar with it nor have they fully grasped the attitude behind the approach. As a result, the claim, attitude and practice are partly disconnected from their emancipatory origins. In order to pass on the knowledge, practical experience and attitude from the movement, we founded the Awareness Institute in 2021.
Awareness Crews in practice
In practice, awareness work usually starts with conversations with the event organisers about the framework, the specific circumstances under which awareness work can be carried out and the attitude behind awareness. To make sure that the guests know about the awareness crew, the events often visibly advertise their awareness concept on their website, flyers, posters, in the programme booklet or on social media.
They also describe what kind of awareness infrastructure will be available and how visitors can reach the Awareness Crew. Often there is a specific place (info desk, counselling room, tent at the festival) where guests can go if they want support or just have a question. Sometimes there is a telephone number or other places/crews forward the request, such as the bar, the door or the security.
The awareness crews are then available to support those affected. Usually there is a counselling room where conversations can take place or where the affected person can find some rest. Together with the affected person, the awareness crew helps to clarify what could be good for the affected person and what is needed now. This can be a simple conversation or counselling. It can also be that the affected person wants to contact friends or relatives or wants to get home safely. Sometimes it is also about having a conversation with the perpetrator or making an announcement to them. In other cases, it may also involve expelling the perpetrator from the event.
The awareness crew usually works as a team and in close coordination with security.
It is important that the awareness crew is well trained, has time for preparation and follow-up and receives supervision. At the same time, any awareness crew is only as good as the event structure in which it works. Reflection by the event organisers and all crews is essential for good awareness.