In the News

“The Talk”: How I found a Safe Space

11 July 2017
This is a story from a 19 year old male on his experience of the UNFPA supported Safe Space events for young people. These events provide opportunity for discussions covering topics such as consent, masculinity, prostitution, commitment and relationships along with the use of condoms, gender roles and sexuality.

It was Valentine’s Day 2017, and my best friend and I decided to have dinner at the Goatfish Café and Bistro. She recently had a bad breakup and I thought it would be a nice gesture to cheer her up.

Once there, we thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food and cosy atmosphere that night. As we got up to leave, one of the staff members bid us goodnight and handed me a large brown paper bag. Curious, we opened the paper bag the minute we got home, to discover several folded leaflets, some stickers, a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and even a rose.

Skimming through, we found that the leaflets contained information on various topics. We read up on HIV Aids; facts and how to prevent it, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the correct use of contraceptives as well as domestic violence and what to do if someone needs help. I noticed a hashtag I’ve never come across before on one of the stickers, so I immediately looked up #AlhaEhNulaanantha and found them on twitter and Facebook.

The following few weeks, I read up on the statistics of Maldivian youth and Sexual Reproductive Health in the Maldives. I was deeply disturbed to discover that even without proper knowledge on contraceptives and sexual reproductive health, the Maldivian youth is sexually active before marriage. I also learnt that such risky sexual behavior amongst the youth including unsafe and unprotected sex with multiple partners lead to a mix of health, social, economic and legal consequences and the occurrence of unintended pregnancies.  

Digging into these topics, I stumbled upon Safe Space, a series of events organized by UNFPA in collaboration with SHE. The objective of these ‘hangouts’ were to create an environment where young people could express themselves openly and get answers to any questions they may have about sexual reproductive health. I learnt that they had already conducted one session before and there was one in the upcoming few days. Being a teenager myself, this got my attention. No one really talks about such issues in our community, which is sad as I doubt any of us really know enough about safe sex and sexual reproductive health until we are much older. I also learnt that in the effort to provide information on sexual reproductive health (SRH) to young people nationwide, they were in the process of launching a mobile application; Sihthaa App.

More curious than ever, I decided to attend the next Safe Space event. I did have second thoughts about going – this was a taboo subject in our society after all. I finally convinced myself to go along when my best friend showed interest in attending as well.

The session was at Goatfish. Walking into the familiar café, we observed individuals who were there to attend the session and a few who were simply hanging with their friends. Those individuals later joined the session as well, and hence there were about 25 young adults seated closeby. We joined them, our doubts disappearing as we see the other teenagers there, having attended the session for information, just like us.  Discussions started soon after, covering topics such as consent, masculinity, prostitution, commitment and relationships along with the use of condoms, gender roles and sexuality. The importance on the responsibility of the youth to spread the word about SRH and making the youth aware was highly emphasised throughout the session. The participants seemed at ease; contributing their thoughts and ideas during the discussions and even asking questions.

The session was overall, very thought provoking. It was a commonly shared notion amongst the young people there, that the information they received was very useful and that it made them want to be more careful.

 

A few weeks later, was my next encounter with information on Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health – during the Youth to Leaders forum held in July 2017. The Sihthaa App, that we had long heard of, was made available for public use with its official launch, providing information on much needed sexual and reproductive health. I would say that it is something the youth of our country has waited long enough.

Just like my experience with safe space – the forum was open, informative and judgement-free. Walking away, I felt a glimmer of hope for our future generations.

 

- Male, 19