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Young Women on Safe Spaces

Young women shared their thoughts on the concept of ‘safe spaces’; opportunities for young women to come together to share experiences, learn from one another and discuss issues of inequality or anything else of concern to them.

“I think that’s sometimes all we need: someone to talk to. We might not realise just how much of a difference it can make, just to get something off your chest. You know, all too often in this life I think we’re very guarded. I don’t know, maybe as a nation. We aren’t expected to open up or say this and you carry it with you. And it can be dangerous for that person and it can impact upon loads of different areas of your life as well so if you had a safe space and somebody you knew you could trust, you could go and speak to them. The whole Standing Safe campaign [to prevent sexual violence on university campuses] it gets people thinking… I think as part of a group, it can offer you a voice – especially for people who are naturally more introverted so are lacking in confidence. They see someone else doing it so they see that it is all right and they’re more encouraged to speak out themselves.”

“You come into this room and feel comfortable to express your ideas and stuff like that. You know that what you’re saying is in confidence and that you’re not going to be judged. I think that you do need to… create that space. You can’t just expect it to happen when you’re having a chat with your friend.”

“We’ve got to make time for ourselves, ‘cause if you don’t, you will mentally get ill because you start speaking to your bairns like their adults! That’s why it’s good that we have this young mums group ‘cause we can talk about stuff that we don’t speak about to anyone else.”

“Teachers stop you opening up because of the authority they have.”

A dominant theme in these discussions was the need of forums for young men. It was suggested that this might be one of the most effective ways to achieve change and improve gender equality in Scotland.

“Those who it hasn’t happened to [sexual harassment] don’t have the experience until someone has a daughter or a sister or a girlfriend that they see it happen to. Again it’s about opening these kinds of conversations about gender with more men. That’s what’s really important and they know that women genuinely don’t feel safe at night and they should cross the street. They don’t realise the effects this has on a young woman. These conversations need to be had in school.”

“Recently a team called RASASH came to our school and they were talking to us about rape in Scotland and I think it was really effective because it was an outside group talking to us about it, it wasn’t our teachers who we see every day so they were taken more seriously, it was like a lecture, they were getting people involved and we were talking about sexual violence and stuff. I think it would be really effective to have groups come in and talk to us about what feminism actually is, so that the boys are forced to listen to it, because it’s in school, and then everyone can learn about it. I feel like one of the main issues is that people don’t actually know what feminism is.”

Two sides of the coin:

“Spaces away from judgment or fear. I don’t think safe spaces always need to exclude men because I don’t think that’s going to be helpful either. I think if it’s a gender-focused space, I feel if it’s a feminist space, the men are hopefully going to be… So if it’s not necessarily a women’s only space, but a feminist space.”

“I have lots of male friends that are lovely, but I just don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with them but I’m conscious they wouldn’t see these things as an issue. When you’ve never had these worries or think about how people will react to the way you’re dressed then I think there’s just the thought that it doesn’t happen.”

“I just feel like I would need people who would listen. I don’t know if they would listen. And like people that would be more interested, you have to have people that are interested in what you’re talking about.”

Another aspect of safe spaces is that they offer opportunities for young women to meet, reflect and discuss outside their existing social and family networks. While we recognise these networks as valuable sources of support for young women, some of the examples presented in this report show that the balance between traditional and family norms can be in conflict with helping young women to exist in the dynamic social reality they face. In particular, familial role models can often reinforce gender expectations.

“I think you sometimes need someone who doesn’t know you to talk to about it- you don’t need that extra judgement…sometimes if you have something personal and you’re upset about something, you don’t want the person to know you that talks to you.”

“Anonymous is important, people think their parents are going to get in trouble or people will start judging them and the anonymous thing is really good ‘cause you don’t feel like someone’s going to get in trouble if they say how they feel or what’s happened in their life.”