International Youth Day and the search for safe spaces

International Youth Day and the search for safe spaces

July 31, 2018

International Youth Day and the search for safe spaces

Safe physical and virtual spaces, in which young people can move around and express themselves freely, are a fundamental requirement if the new generations are to be actively involved in sustainable development and social cohesion processes. 

International Youth Day, celebrated on 12 August every year since 2000, has come of age. Founded by the United Nations to increase the focus on and awareness of youth-related themes, in 2018 the international event highlights the spaces in which young people live their lives. Safe Spaces for Youth is the theme chosen for the eighteenth edition of the event, to be marked by events and projects at the global level and which - as the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) website states - is "a celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in promoting human rights and development. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and hardships facing the world’s youth”. These challenges include the lack of education and employment opportunities as well as the lack of safe places where they can grow up in safety. 

A space for everyone

The United Nations website for International Youth Day affirms that youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. But what does a "safe space" mean? It is virtually impossible to come up with a single definition: habits, needs, aspirations and sociocultural backgrounds are different, and so the meanings that the world's youth attribute to the expression will also be different. Reflecting this, in preparation for the 12 August event a competition for young people has also been organized, asking them to send photos and videos which describe their own, personal "safe space" (real or virtual) and describe its role in their daily lives (#MySafeSpace and #SafeSpaces4Youth). Safe spaces which help youth to realize their potential may therefore be civic, to enable them to engage in governance issues, public, to afford them the opportunity to participate in sports and other leisure activities in the community, or digital, to help them to interact virtually across borders with everyone.

From youth to the whole world

A focus on safe spaces, linked to a concept of sustainable development, is not the sole prerogative of International Youth Day. Amongst the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals, number 11 involves “Sustainable cities and communities” and aims to create urban spaces that are inclusive and safe, as well as resilient and sustainable. The importance of processes that guarantee urbanization that is “safe” for youth is also underlined in the New Urban Agenda (NUA), adopted during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), held in Quito, Ecuador, on 20 October 2016. 

As the document states, youth need safe spaces in which they can interact with family and have constructive inter-generational dialog. Spaces for leisure activities are essential for the balanced psychological, cognitive and physical development of young people, as reiterated by the United Nations World Program of Action for Youth (WPAY) - but on their own, they are not enough. For youth who are born into and grow up in a technologically connected world, political, civic and social engagement is important, and suitable, safe spaces are crucial to make this a reality. 

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