Let’s talk the taboo subject | Sunday Observer

Let’s talk the taboo subject

Project ‘Safe Space’, an initiative by the Society for Health Education (SHE – a member association of International Planned Parenthood Federation) is positively changing the recreational spaces in the Maldives as a platform for youth to initiate healthy discussions on topics they hardly could talk about before. A pilot project was launched in January 2018. Within a year it has already reached out to more than 700 youngsters not just in Male but also the surrounding 10 islands where youth are far more reluctant to speak about sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The idea of project ‘Safe Space’ came up with the need to reach out to Maldivian youth and create safe spaces for them to discuss openly about issues like gender-based violence, menstrual hygiene, relationships, social skills and other relevant topics openly without fear of becoming vulnerable or under scrutiny.

In its second quarter, the project has reached out to 172 youngsters between the ages of 16-25 years. These sessions are conducted with the aim of creating awareness about various topics such as consent, HIV/AIDs and sexually transmitted infections, menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

Mariyam Lahufa, Program Officer of SHE Maldives described how the initiative was difficult when they began, especially, in bringing together the youth population, encouraging them to open up and then to maintain their engagement with the project. They had to try different methods like social media event creation and partner with cafes and restaurants in the area for free coffees and goodies. They even organised a trivia night which was a huge success and eventually the participation of youth in the project increased. In fact, Mariyam mentions how by the middle of the project, they brought together 105 young participants for a program called GN Formula, held on an island near Male. They consider this as their largest gathering and one of the most successful events too.

Each session lasted between one and a half hour to two hours and the seven essential components of Comprehensive Sexuality Education by International Planned Parenthood Federation; Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV, Sexual Rights and Sexual Citizenship, Pleasure, Violence, Diversity and Relationships were discussed.

Mariyam says about the major achievement of the project, “The major objective of the project was to sensitise more and more young people and solve the issues right from the beginning. We are happy with the extent of the success the project has achieved and are also hopeful that with the knowledge shared, the youth of Maldives will become more informed, take better decisions and pass on the information to the next generation too.”

The Safe Space project did not just create a platform for discussion but also opened doors for avenues from where they can seek help from like the app Siththaa (in Dhivehi, ‘love and affection’), a UNFPA-supported app offering youth-friendly information on sex and sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, sexual reproductive health, STIs, consent and coercion. It also disseminates information on different hotline numbers, organisations to seek help in case of emergencies and access to contraceptive options. On this interactive application users can also ask questions anonymously which are answered by healthcare professionals.

Gearing up for their second phase CEO, SHE , Ahmad Shafeeu, explained “The greatest learning during this one-year project was the importance of peer advocacy. Youth are more likely to open to a peer than a facilitator. Our next phase is to use the currently trained youth and train more of them to be advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights amongst their peers. This year, the team will also reach out to the youth population living in the island communities, vulnerable groups such as youngsters living with disabilities, and those involved in gang violence and drugs.”

To expand the outreach and implement the project activities successfully SHE Maldives is looking to collaborate with different stakeholders including the Ministryof Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, the Maldives Girl Guide Association and other civil societies who closely work with youth.