News

“Safe spaces help us have difficult conversations as men”

18 September 2018
"People should not think that young people who come from rural settings are less capable. It is important that projects earmarked for us take into consideration those differences," says Ntokozo Sikhondze. © UNFPA Eswatini/Thuli Dlamini-Teferi

MAHWALALA, Eswatini—As the world experiences climate change, deepened social and economic inequalities, and political and humanitarian crises, young people often face circumstances in which they lack safe spaces.

But with the rise of social media and other forms of online communication, they are able to explore new opportunities for engagement and use innovations to create both virtual and physical spaces. UNFPA in Eswatini seeks to build on this momentum.

This is why we asked young people the question:  

Q: What does a “safe space” mean for you in fulfilling your potential?

“Safe spaces help us have difficult conversations as men”

“The community I come from is densely populated and has a high crime rate. Most young people are involved in alcohol and drug abuse, and most are unemployed. There is also a lot of gender-based violence,” says Ntokozo Sikhondze, a Red Cross volunteer who also offers dance lessons for other young people in his community.

From a young age, I knew that violence was not a solution.

He is a member of the intervention ‘Increasing Integrated HIV Services Uptake and Reducing Gender-Based Violence through the Intensive Engagement of Men and Boys’, supported by UNFPA and UNICEF, and implemented through a partnership with the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) and Kwakha Indvodza.

“Through the space that Kwakha Indvodza is facilitating, we are engaging with other young men and boys to discuss difficult issues, such as why it is wrong for us as guys to hit a woman,” he says.

“In my community I see a lot of violence. I’m lucky to have been brought up by parents who never used to hit each other. They saw violence as a bad thing. From a young age, I knew that violence was not a solution. When I started dating, I never used to hit my girlfriend,” Ntokozo says.

“The space that we have at Mahwalala is assisting us to have difficult conversations. It is easier when we discuss among ourselves as men. Sometimes I am able to have discussions with some of the guys I used to drink and smoke with, before I stopped. I feel we understand each other when I talk to them about some of these issues.”

‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is a fool’. The fact that we come from different backgrounds means our needs are unique.

“I like this saying: ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is a fool’. The fact that we come from different backgrounds means our needs are unique. People should not think that young people who come from rural settings, for instance, are less capable. They are also equally capable as their urban counterparts,” he says.

Ntokozo runs a small business from which he earns an income.

“It is important that projects earmarked for us take into consideration those differences. Some of the challenges we face include that, as young people, we have many ideas but we do not have access to funding to see those ideas succeed. It is so difficult to access funds. Most times we don’t even know where to access funds. Education should focus on our capabilities as young people.”

Engaging and empowering youth in Eswatini

The Kingdom of Eswatini has about 800,000 Emaswati under 35 years old, of whom more than 350,000 are between the ages of 15 and 34 years.

This year, International Youth Day aimed to promote youth engagement and empowerment by exploring the role of safe spaces in contributing to freedom of expression, mutual respect and constructive dialogue.

Young people need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision-making processes and express themselves freely.

Safe spaces may be physical or virtual, and provide opportunities for sport and leisure time activities, while deconstructing barriers of judgment, hate speech, harassment and or violence.

By Thuli Dlamini-Teferi