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Kenyan youth in political rally. [Photo: Courtesy]
The world celebrates International Youth Day this month with calls for the creation of safe spaces for youth.

Young people in Kenya comprise the largest part of the entire population, with three quarters being under the age of 30. The provision of space is critical for their positive development.

There are many forms of safe spaces where young people can come together.

Public spaces such as parks, streets, markets and playgrounds are frequently used by young people to meet, take part in sport and leisure activities and enjoy themselves.

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Topic imaginable

Civic spaces allow youth organisations to engage with decision makers on issues such as civil rights, voting, volunteering, democracy and governance.

And in the virtual world - youth have created their own digital space in which they interact with each other across the world on every topic imaginable.

International Youth day is a time to reflect on the progress made and what needs to be done to create these spaces. Safe spaces help youth to imagine a new and a better world, and to create a future that will be more sustainable.

When youth have safe spaces, they can effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion. Youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision-making processes and to freely express themselves.

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Having a space that feels safe can empower youth by providing them with the opportunity to gather and participate in sports and recreational activities or to talk and engage in meaningful dialogue.

Contribute effectively

Most importantly, spaces should be planned in such a way to accommodate the needs of youth from diverse backgrounds, creating an open and accepting environment, where everyone is respected and valued.

The design of such spaces should be inclusive and accommodate their various needs, interests, and activities and can contribute to combating prejudice, division and harassment.

UN-Habitat is committed to provide services and support to the youth to provide the them with opportunities to fully develop their potential and contribute effectively to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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In 2003, UN-Habitat set up the first One-Stop Youth Centre in Nairobi in partnership with the city of Nairobi and other stakeholders.

The Nairobi One Stop has provided a number of services: training for youth in entrepreneurship, information communication technology (ICT) and business skills, provision of recreational space, access to health services and a space for youth-led organizations to organize and impact positive change.

Since 2003, seven more One Stops have been established in cities in Africa, the most recent one being in Mogadishu, Somalia and Juba, South Sudan.

Young people are agents of change. They are assets and the leaders of today - not only tomorrow. Young people can change the “impossible” to “I’m possible”.

Society needs

The fast-rising youth population, known as the youth bulge, means it is urgent to address the various dimensions of urban youth, including in the context of safe space.

Safe spaces for youth must be at the top of the agenda. Safe spaces can ensure that youth are able to focus their talent, creativity and energies toward the progress that every society needs.

Ms Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat and Mr Obonyo, alumnus UN-Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board. Email; [email protected]

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