This is a safe space!

Towards less inequalities & a safe future for all
On this year’s World Youth Day, the United Nations and youth around the world are focusing on “Safe Spaces for Youth”.
But what are safe spaces and what do they have to do with young people?
This year’s Austrian UN Youth Delegate, Natalie Haas, shares her thoughts.

Safe Spaces?

First of all let’s ask ourselves one more time: what does “safe space” mean? Of course safety can’t be understood just in a physical meaning – although that’s of utter importance.

Safety is a basic human right. The fact of being a safe space for its members is, ultimately, what constitutes a community. You feel part of the community first of all because you feel safe there. But that stretches way beyond the sense of being protected from what or who could do harm to us, to our body.

Indeed, safety is a matter of feeling accepted by the society, of seeing the dignity of every human being recognised in it, of being able to participate and have a say in the decision making around common issues. In short: of being provided with equal opportunities.

This is not to be given for granted.

There are marginalised and vulnerable communities in our society – be it because of their gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, religion, ethnicity, physical abilities or the place where they live – that feel not accepted, not able to participate, not provided with equal and fair opportunities. And, look at European history of the last century shows, marginalised communities often are not safe. Neither in a broader, nor in a narrower sense.

Lack of acceptance, lack of participation, lack of opportunities: this is exactly what young people normally face in the society. Actually they are often confronted with double discrimination: first, just for being young, and additionally because belonging to a marginalised group.

It’s about YOUth

As Austrian Youth Delegate to the United Nations I have lately travelled through Austria for over two weeks and met with various organizations, youth groups, projects and young people. It was an enriching experience that reshaped even my own view of youth in Austria nowadays. In particular, it striked me that any young people I talked to would mention this to me: That they want a secure future with fair chances and less inequalities.

We as young people are often blamed as self-interested, shallow, unfocused and obsessed with our own outer image (now don’t go checking immediately my last Insta story, ok?). But well, that’s just unfair, if you consider, for instance, that up to 50% of young Austrian are involved in volunteerism activities – so many activities, and initiatives, and projects I had the opportunity to know better in my trip across the country. And it’s not only that.

I have learnt that young people are much more keen to accept diversities than grownups, much more sensitive to topics such as sustainability, much more connected, open-minded and flexible.

 

We have ideas and proposals, we have needs and demands, we are willing to do our own part in order to build a better future. A world with reduced inequalities, which gives us the same chances and opportunities.

Is such a future possible? Yes, for sure. But you need to get young people involved. They make up the 50,5% of the world population today: when will the society finally understand that youth can’t be treated as passive object, but must be considered an active, valuable, critical driver of positive change?

For taking up the challenge of a sustainable development for our planet, we need societies where we can express ourselves, where we can feel accepted and listened to. We need safe spaces to thrive. As Maria Montessori once said, “Help me to do it by myself”.

 

Written by UN Youth Delegate Natalie Haas.