International Youth Day, which takes place in August each year, is a time to recognise the contribution young people make to society all across the globe. This year, the theme for International Youth Day is “Youth Safe Spaces”. Below, we take a look at what the concept of a “safe space” means in today’s world and how it applies to the work we do here at GFS.
What Do we mean when we talk about “safe spaces”?
The term safe space has varying definitions. According to one dictionary, ‘safe space’ means “a place intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”
That’s certainly one meaning of the term. At GFS, we believe a huge contributing reason for creating safe spaces is to do with emotional comfort – environments which foster emotional comfort are shown to improve an individual’s overall wellbeing, especially amongst children and young people.
Many of us have obvious choices when it comes to our chosen “safe spaces” – the popularity of the phrase “I feel at home” is testament to how many of us feel emotionally comfortable with our family. For others it could be a classroom, a Doctor’s Office, a catch-up with friends or even a bit of time alone.
environments which foster emotional comfort are shown to improve an individual’s overall wellbeing
Sounds great! How can we create more safe spaces in the world?
It’s important to recognise that not all people share the same views or feelings towards safe spaces – what works for some, might not work for others. Even though the phrase “I feel at home” is popular, there are some people in the world who sadly do not feel emotionally comfortable at home.
Different groups and organisations need to establish safe spaces based on an understanding of who or what they are there for. For example, at GFS our mission is to provide opportunities for girls and young women to develop their confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing and resilience. Research shows that girls and young women benefit hugely from getting involved in women only spaces: they are able to express themselves more freely which leads to increased confidence in their everyday life. A review by YWCA and Girlguiding UK also found that girls and young women were enthusiastic about having time away from boys and benefited from having women leaders as role models.
Isn’t it sexist to have single-gender groups?
No. Just because a single-gender space empowers one group does not necessarily mean it disempowers another. All of the recent single-gender groups we can think of were not brought about with the intention of discriminating against the opposite sex. In fact, it is quite the opposite: they exist to help the specific gender they were created for in the first place. A lot of the time, an Activity Leader will engage GFS girls and young women in activities which relate to the female experience, which they all share. In addition to the practical reasons, GFS knows that the research in favour of female-only spaces, together will the positive impact of female role models on girls and young women, provides more than enough justification for having a female-only policy.
Just because a single-gender space empowers one group does not necessarily mean it dis-empowers another
In the past, gender-segregation was sexist. What makes it so different now?
Historically, gender segregation was based on a culture which we have to come to view as sexist. For example, isn’t it shocking to think that women-only parking spaces used to exist? Or that only men could join the army, the police force and even serve in a jury? It’s a completely different story now – single-gender spaces exist for a range of practical and common sense reasons. A person’s gender should have absolutely nothing to do with their job prospects (in fact, there are currently more females studying medicine at UK universities than men) so back then, single-gender spaces were completely non-nonsensical – and definitely sexist!
Did you Know?
- The idea for International Youth Day came from a group of young people in Austria who thought that the contributions young people make to society, and the impact they have on the world, should be recognised more.
- The UN officially proclaimed the idea as a National Day in 1995 as a way to promote better awareness of youth issues as well as celebrating their contributions.
- Each year, the UN sets a theme to the celebration and awareness day. Previous themes have been mental health, poverty and peace.