‘They are my tribe’: How a self-organising women’s group built a sisterhood that improved wellbeing and increased social connectedness


  • Doris Testa Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia


Women, health and wellbeing, blue spaces, social work, sisterhood


INTRODUCTION: Drawing from a perspective that integrates elements of both subjective and psychological wellbeing, this research explores the experiences of The Jellies, a self-organising, all-female open water swimming group. The article outlines how the women’s participation in this group created a ‘sisterhood’ that enhanced and maintained their physical, social and emotional health, social connectedness and affinity for natural aquatic environments (‘blue spaces’). This study offers insights into how social workers can act as intermediaries, aiding women in establishing sisterhoods of supportive networks and solidarity.

METHODS: The research employed a thematic analysis to explore the perspectives and experiences of 39 women who belonged to a self-organising, open-water swimming group. Recruitment was through purposeful sampling.

FINDINGS: The research sheds light on the importance of women-only spaces and their contribution to women's overall wellbeing, including fostering a sisterhood of solidarity and mutual support. Swimming provided a context for the women to address their need for physical activity, navigate their emotional landscape and create connections of belonging, support and solidarity. However, culture and gender norms and economic positioning excluded, silenced and marginalised some women from accessing blue spaces.

CONCLUSION: The findings invite social workers to rethink the use of blue spaces as a novel community-building asset and to learn from an organically formed all-women’s swimming group about alternative ways to empower and sustain women’s overall wellbeing. Social workers can gain insight into how women understand and formalise belonging, and how belonging enables, or not, women to navigate their environmental and emotional geographies.

Author Biography

Doris Testa, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

Dr. Doris Testa, Senior Lecturer,  currently works in the School of Health and Biomedicine, Social Work Department, Victoria University, Melbourne



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How to Cite

Testa, D. (2024). ‘They are my tribe’: How a self-organising women’s group built a sisterhood that improved wellbeing and increased social connectedness. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 36(1), 114–126. Retrieved from https://anzswjournal.nz/anzsw/article/view/1111



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