Safe spaces are one of the main requirements for IAM to be able to carry out its transformative work embodied in the Wheel of Change. In this post, Ingrid Schoonraad, IAM’s Regional Programme Manager, reflects on the importance of safe spaces, what they look like in practice, and the things that are required for a safe space to be created.

How IAM creates safe spaces for dialogue

For people to be able to effectively enter into dialogue and have open, honest discussions around topics such as sexual and gender identity and faith, they need to feel safe to express and explore their thoughts and beliefs, without any judgment or victimisation. Safe spaces are at the heart of nearly all of IAM’s work – there is no room for dialogue and transformation without first cultivating trust and understanding. Without safe spaces, the deep and challenging conversations that IAM helps to navigate aren’t possible. But how do we create those safe spaces?

In our experience, creating safe spaces depends on some fundamental concepts. Safe spaces require:

  • Brutal honesty about privileges and power dynamics both in society as well as in the space itself.
  • Recognition that safety is both internal and external – we carry wounds from the ways that our identities have been treated in the world, and that in some cases, we have internalised those prejudices.
  • A willingness to be vulnerable.
  • Affirmation that people can fully express themselves in the space without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or judged on account of sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability.
  • Acknowledgement of the importance of communication and of allowing people to use the language they are most comfortable with to express best what they want to say.
  • Patience and translations skills to stimulate deeper understanding and encourage sharing to happen.
  • Facilitation that encourages all participants to take the risk to engage.
  • Agreement from all participants to honour confidentiality, to listen actively, to respect each other, and to participate fully.

When facilitators make sure these requirements are met and participants follow these guiding principles, the group can safely head into difficult conversations and uncharted territories together, confident that even when they disagree that they will be heard and respected. Only then can people open up and share their true thoughts and move towards a shared understanding and mutual respect.