Audrey Nosenga blogs about safe spaces for young people

5 ways to make safe spaces for young people

By Audrey Nosenga
02 Jan 2019

I remember at one point in my late teen life, my mother sent me to the local clinic to get her regular supply of contraception because she was too busy and caught up in some other commitments. I gracefully went there and met the shock of my life when the pharmacist asked me why I needed contraception and started judging me for sleeping around.

As if it was not enough he went on to ask for my mother’s name, address and phone number and then called her telling her I was at the clinic getting contraception. To his surprise, my story aligned with hers and he shamefully gave me the pills. He told me never to come back to the clinic and that my mother should do it herself next time.

The challenges faced by young people

Mine is just one story among many lived realities of young people’s challenges in accessing contraception, medical treatment, care and support within health care facilities. The challenges that young people face are diverse and relate to one’s social context, sexual orientation, policies and age among a lot of other things. The negative experience becomes more elevated for young people living with HIV; living with disabilities; and for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ), as they face a double burden of stigma and discrimination.

Health care providers and other workers are quick to judge, and as a result routine medical checkups and hospital visits become difficult experiences. In some instances, there is lack of privacy and young people experience negative opinions about seeking information and services like contraception. In some facilities, health care workers do not know how to talk to young people, do not treat them with respect, and do not value them seeking information and services.

What do safe spaces mean to young people?

The idea of safe spaces may still seem new to many people. But to us, it means a place where young people are free to be who they are or want to be. It is a place or environment in which each person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, or any other emotional or physical harm. The provision of a safe space for young people is an essential component of effective community youth programmes that involve health promotion and aim to enhance positive youth development.

How to make a space youth friendly

Adolescents and young people are unique in their development and their health and social needs, and therefore require safe spaces and specialised services. Here are 5 ways to make services youth friendly and safe:

1. Make access flexible

Services should be flexible, affordable, relevant and responsive to the needs of all young people (regardless of age, sex, race, cultural background, religion, socioeconomic status or other factors). Flexible service hours help to serve more diverse populations who find it difficult to attend services at certain times (i.e. students).

2. Respect young people

Health care providers and all other workers at a health care service must be friendly, non-judgmental, supportive and respect young people’s privacy. We need service providers who are ready to provide youth-friendly services.

3. Involve young people

Young people should be involved in the development, implementation, review, and evaluation of services and programmes. This creates mutual respect and a sense of ownership, influence, and belonging to that service or programme.

4. Be supportive of our diversity

By promoting positive youth development, young people can be ready to make informed decisions about their health and rights. We need support from parents and care givers when we talk about living with HIV; our sexuality; or other diversities.

5. Champion youth services

We need decision makers to champion our corner, by promoting the importance of adolescents and young people being able to access information, services and commodities.

Young people – it is your right to have access to these vital components of health services, to ensure we build a resilient, empowered, passionate and vision-driven generation of leaders.

Audrey Nosenga is a mentor with Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+).